Two teams trending in different directions met at Bridgestone Arena Saturday evening. The Minnesota Wild were riding a three-game win streak and were 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. The Nashville Predators however, were on a three-game skid (one in overtime) and 3-5-2 in their last 10. Nashville got the lead just 46 seconds into the game and would never trail, defeating the Wild 3-2.
It’s been seen before where the Predators would have a strong first period, only to suffer a letdown in the last 40 minutes of the game. One goal leads have been blown, energy levels have declined and losses ensued. Not Saturday night. Nashville was able to build off of their early goal from Filip Forsberg. The team played with high energy throughout first, making smart passes, dominating time in the offensive zone and limiting shots from Minnesota. While getting a win is always important, a victory against a division rival that is ahead in the standings is even sweeter.
“It’s of course a huge win,” said Miikka Salomäki. “We’ve been losing a lot of games, and it’s always nice to win on home ice. I think we played well and it showed.”
Later on in the first period, a string of penalties led to two 49-second stints of five-on-three power play time for Nashville. They took advantage of the opportunity in the second stint when Mike Ribeiro tipped in a Shea Weber slapshot.
The second period hasn’t been the best for the Predators lately. Lulls have been occurring, which has resulted in the opponent getting back in the game or taking a lead. James Neal made sure that didn’t happen this time, giving Nashville a 3-0 lead at 8:06. That goal came at a good time because the Wild finally got on the board less than a minute later. Aside from another Wild goal in the third, Saturday night was overall a much better game from Nashville.
“It’s a big win,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “That’s a big game. We’re in a situation where the wins have been hard to come by. I said this yesterday that all teams go through it and we’re susceptible to it as well. I really liked the way we hung our jerseys tonight together as a group. We all went out and played hard and we got a big win.”
Salomäki thankful for opportunities
While Gabriel Bourque is still out with injury, Miikka Salomäki has been able to continue getting experience with the big club. Against the Wild, Salomäki earned some time on the penalty kill unit and was even given the responsibility of being on the ice in the final minute of the game with Nashville holding a one-goal lead.
“It feels good,” said Salomäki. “Of course you want to play a lot, and it’s good when your coach trusts you. It’s fun to play against their best guys, too. I like it.”
Salomäki’s role has been on different lines depending on injury status and the overall lineup itself. Lately, he’s been playing with Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom. Salomäki is the type of player that plays with high energy, hits hard and can even chip in offensively, something important to have on a fourth line.
“It’s a good line,” said Salomäki. “I like to play with them. We try to be physical and high energy guys. We played a lot against their best lines, and just tried to go to their end and get them tied. We tried to bring a lot of energy. That’s pretty much it. We just tried to up the tempo.”
Tough decisions will need to be made when Mike Fisher and Gabriel Bourque make their eventual return to the lineup. Colton Sissons and Miika Salomäki are continuing to prove their worth to the club the longer they stay up. Having depth is a good problem to have, but it will be a difficult one to face.
Nashville takes on the Montreal Canadiens, the top team in the Atlantic Division, in a rare Monday home game in two days. With Sunday’s practice canceled, the team should have fresh legs to play against one of the league’s best.
Photo credit: Christina McCullough