After falling victim to the Chicago Blackhawks just two nights prior, the Nashville Predators put four pucks past goaltender Scott Darling, and added on an empty netter, in their 5-1 victory Thursday night.
In a game that always has had a playoff-like atmosphere to it for the past few seasons, Thursday night did not disappoint. The raucous atmosphere could be felt in the minutes leading up to puck drop as fans from both teams filed in to Bridgestone Arena. From the start, it was easy to see that Nashville came out firing on all cylinders, peppering Darling with shot after shot until James Neal finally beat him at 6:54 of the first period. Later on in the first, two goals less than a minute apart from Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg all but sealed the victory for the Predators.
“I think we needed those two points, especially against that team,” said Ryan Ellis. “They caught us on a back to back last game, and I don’t think it was our best effort. Tonight, I felt like we came out hard right off the bat, kind of let it slide in the second, but overall, I felt we played a great hockey game.”
The bout featured two fights in the first period along with 23 hits from the Predators and 17 from the Blackhawks. After seeing each other in last season’s playoffs and just two nights before, the intensity of the rivalry continues to grow.
“We’ve played them a lot over the last couple years, they’re in our division, we see them in the playoffs,” said Ellis. “They’re a good hockey team and anytime you play a team like that, you’re ready to go. Your legs are usually firing.”
Even though Nashville was playing with a 3-0 lead going into the third period, Chicago was going to get a big push to begin the final stanza. The Predators put up 18 shots in the first period alone, but totaled only 16 in the final 40 minutes. On the other end, the Blackhawks tallied seven shots in the first, but put up a combined 29 shots on Pekka Rinne in the second and third period.
“We knew they were going to get a push at some point,” said Ellis. “When they push, they push hard. They got some great chances. Pekka was great tonight. We blocked shots. We got pucks out when we needed to, but it’s something to learn from again. We can’t let Pekka do all the work. I think, for the most part, helped him out and he did the rest.”
Aside from Patrick Kane’s goal that extended his scoring streak to 24 games, goaltender Pekka Rinne was a wall in the crease Thursday night. While Kane’s goal was challenged by Predators head coach Peter Laviolette, it stood, ruining the shutout for Rinne. There were multiple opportunities for Chicago to score in the game however, but Rinne came up big with tremendous save after tremendous save.
“He was awesome tonight,” said Ellis on Rinne. “Even the goal they scored, I questioned what they were thinking on that one, but it was a goal and I thought we fought back hard. Pekka was just unbelievable tonight, and we need him to be that way all the time. More times than not, he is.”
In the forward department, with Mike Fisher still on the injured reserve, the emergence of Calle Jarnkrok as a top-six forward continues. Thursday night, he continued play centering James Neal and Filip Forsberg. On the night, Jarnkrok logged 19:44 on the ice and was 15 for 27 in face-offs, good for 56%. Jarnkrok continues to play a strong, responsible game in Fisher’s absence.
“He’s honestly our most responsible forward,” said Ellis on Jarnkrok. “Smart player. Great with the puck. Always wants the puck and makes simple plays. When you’re playing with two guys like Neal and Forsberg, you have to make plays with those guys as well as be responsible for them at times. He’s the best of both worlds with those two.”
Nashville continues divisional play on Saturday when the Colorado Avalanche come to town. In the ever-competitive Central Division, the Predators move into third place in the division, just one point behind St. Louis and one point ahead of Chicago.
Post game with Pekka Rinne & Peter Laviolette:
Photo credit: Christina McCullough