It seems as though every game this season is a statement game for the Nashville Predators. Each game is a test to see if the 2014-15 team is the real deal. In front of a sellout crowd Tuesday night, the Predators took on and defeated the Los Angeles Kings, the defending Stanley Cup Champions. In a battle that had a playoff-like atmosphere, Nashville took home the 4-3 victory in the shootout when James Neal beat Kings goaltender Martin Jones in the sixth round. The Predators would most likely not have been able to push the game to overtime and shootout if not for the stellar play of the penalty kill late in the third period.
“The PK has had its ups and downs this year and we got those late ones and you’re going, ‘oh boy,’ but at the same guys really beared down,” said Eric Nystom, a key player on the penalty kill. “[Gaustad] didn’t even have his stick on one and he’s diving face first to block pucks. That’s what it takes to have a successful penalty kill. Those kills were huge for us to stay in the game and find a way to win in the shootout.”
As Nystrom mentioned, the penalty kill has had its struggles throughout the season, but against a dangerous team like the Kings, it stood tall when it had to.
“Penalty kill was terrific,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “You get a little bit nervous when you have a big game like that and you have to kill one with six minutes to go. But they did an excellent job all night. They were really solid in the zone with their routes and took away shooting lanes and kept the puck moving around the perimeter.”
Some of the key moments in this game did seem to focus around Nystrom though as one of his hits seemed to ignite the crowd and the team. Midway through the second period Nystrom leveled Brayden McNabb behind the Los Angeles net.
“It was just one of those ones where I was just skating my forecheck route and coming in hard and the guy just turned into me,” said Nystrom.” I think we were kind of on our heels and it sparked the building. That’s how some small plays can make a big difference in the game and the boys really responded to that.”
Later on in the second period, Ryan Ellis launched a missile of a shot that went in for the goal. While Shea Weber is always talked about as having a dangerous shot, Ellis’ isn’t too far behind.
“He’s, without a doubt, one of the harder shots in the back end,” said Nystrom on Ryan Ellis. “His one-timer is unreal. His shot is really underrated and not really known about, but he can really shoot a hockey puck. That was a huge goal for us.”
A minute following the goal from Ellis, Taylor Beck fired the puck towards the net and Nystrom’s stick just tipped it in for the goal. Hockey players are always taught to keep their stick on the ice in case the puck comes to them. In the case of this goal, fundamentals played a huge role.
“I don’t even know if I meant to keep it on the ice, but I was just in a tangle in front of the net,” said Nystrom. “Beck threw it and it just nipped my stick. I don’t know if it would have gone in regardless. It just hit my stick and went in. You go to the net and put pucks there, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s crazy how goals happen. That’s why you want to be there and shoot the puck.”
Two goals in less than a minute made for an exciting atmosphere not only for the fans, but also for the players. Tuesday’s game could potentially be a playoff match-up, something that even Nystrom noted.
“They are a big and strong team and very experienced, solid from top to bottom,” said Nystrom. “You know you have to bring you’re a-game and they are used to teams bringing their a-game being in an atmosphere like that. The building was rocking, the fans were going nuts, the intensity was high and it is a good experience for us to learn to play those types of games.”
With the win, the Nashville Predators took over first place in the Central Division as they tied the St. Louis Blues with 30 points, with a game in hand. Up next is what is becoming a yearly tradition with the Edmonton Oilers, losers of five straight games, on Thanksgiving night. The next three games for the Predators are against bottom-dwellers in the standings and if they take full advantage of what’s in front of them, take a lead in the number spot in the division.
Head coach Peter Laviolette’s post game press conference: