With the playoffs out of reach for the Nashville Predators, the role of spoiler seemed very fitting in their first opponent following their elimination. The Phoenix Coyotes came to Nashville desperate for points to stay in the chase for the last wild card spot in the playoffs. With stellar defensive play and excellent goaltending from Pekka Rinne, the Predators shutout the Coyotes 2-0 in front of an over-capacity crowd.
Comments from Pekka Rinne, game recap, as well as video from Gabriel Bourque and Barry Trotz below.
The first period began slowly for both teams. Neither team was able to generate much offense midway through the first, and the Predators did not even register their first shot on goal until 7:29. Through 15 minutes of the first, the game remained scoreless and there were very few shots on goal. With 5:32 remaining, Phoenix had tallied five shots and Nashville had four.
At 17:15 of the first the Coyotes were given their first power play opportunity of the game when Nick Spaling took a hooking penalty. The penalty kill for Nashville performed well, including Paul Gaustad running off a lot of time by keeping the puck against the end boards in the Phoenix zone. In doing so, the Predators were able to kill off the penalty and they went into the first intermission tied at zero and trailing in shots six to 9.
“This group has a lot of character,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “There’s only one way to play, and that’s to play the right way, and this group does. They’re a group that has matured, and they are professional.”
Early in the second, the Predators were given a power play opportunity of their own when Jeff Halpern tripped Colin Wilson at 2:19. As with the Phoenix power play, Nashville could not get any real rhythm on the opportunity, and the Coyotes killed it off. Even though the Predators could not score, one could feel the momentum beginning to shift in favor of Nashville.
The Predators were put on the power play again at 8:37 when Rob Klinkhammer high sticked Ryan Ellis. This power play opportunity was much more fruitful. Craig Smith received the puck from Ryan Ellis and Seth Jones, skated toward the net, pulled a leg-lift fake and roofed the puck past goaltender Thomas Greiss for his 21st goal of the season.
“I just rolled up the wall and we had talked about trying to roll up the D and cut to the middle to open up a little more space, and just try to push it outside his body and get a quick shot,” said Craig Smith on his goal. “It went off of one of their defensemen, I think, so it was nice to get a goal.”
Building on the momentum from the goal, the Predators saw beautiful chances from Calle Jarnkrok and then later Craig Smith. Nashville finished the period strong, developing well-timed scoring opportunities and they went into the second intermission leading on the scoreboard 1-0 and in shots 16-14.
Nashville’s domination continued midway into the third even though Phoenix took a lead in shots. The Predators seemed to already be in clamp-down defense mode. They were forcing shots from the outside and Pekka Rinne made some spectacular saves.
Patric Hornqvist continued his hot streak to close out the season when he notched his 21st of the season. Hornqvist scored in his true fashion, dirty and right in front of the net. Mike Fisher passed the puck from behind the net to a streaking Hornqvist who missed on his first attempt, but whacked the puck in on his second attempt at 9:21.
Late in the third, the Predators gave the Coyotes an opportunity to get back into the game. Mattias Ekholm took a holding penalty at 15:20 while in the defensive zone. Pekka Rinne made some spectacular saves and the Predators killed off the penalty.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since I’ve come back and it feels good to go out on the ice and feel like I’m playing the way I can,” said Pekka Rinne. “That’s the one thing that obviously feels good, but at the same time I wish I could’ve played more consistently since I came back.”
The Coyotes ran with an empty net to end regulation, but could not muster any quality chances. In holding on to the 2-0 lead, Rinne earned his second shutout of the season and set the franchise record for wins.
“Our goaltending stabilized and the team reacts differently offensively and defensively,” said Barry Trotz. “I’m thrilled for him. Now he has two shutouts.”
Below are thoughts from Gabriel Bourque, who has been performing well while playing with Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok.
Barry Trotz postgame: