The Nashville Predators continued their hot streak on Saturday afternoon in Nashville with a 5-0 drubbing of the St. Louis Blues. With the win, the Predators moved to within six points of the Blues for third place in the Central Division.
From the very start, Nashville was dominant on the puck and controlling possession in the zone. They peppered Blues goaltender Jake Allen with 15 shots in the first period, and Craig Smith put Nashville on the board early just 5:39 in the game. The tone was set early in the game.
“Just to have an afternoon game like this, we’ve played a lot of games lately, we knew the start would be huge,” said Mattias Ekholm. “The way we prepared ourselves before the game, it really showed dividends in the first period. We came out flying and playing really well, so it was a great team effort tonight, great win and we played a hell of a game.”
In addition to the great effort, the blue liners did their fair share in helping maintain puck in the zone throughout the game.
“We all want to play with the puck rather without the puck,” said Ekholm. “I think every defenseman on this team wants to be involved, wants to have the puck, wants to reverse the puck and rather keep possession compared to just throwing it away.”
From then on, it was the Filip Forsberg show. The 21-year old winger notched his second natural hat trick in three games, netting all three goals in the second period. With his three goals, Forsberg now has 26 on the season and now has the team lead in points at 46, surpassing Roman Josi. According to Fox Sports Tennessee, Forsberg’s two natural hat tricks in four days set a new NHL record that was previously held by Peter Bondra. Bondra, with the Washington Capitals of all teams, notched two natural hat tricks in eight days during the 1996 season.
“He’s been working hard and obviously a skilled player and can shoot the puck really well,” said Ekholm on Forsberg. “Right now, they’re just bouncing in for him. It’s tough to describe, but he’s been playing lights out lately.”
Even with the score completely lopsided, the physical intensity between the two teams continued throughout the entire game. Petter Granberg and Troy Brouwer dropped the gloves, David Backes and Pekka Rinne got into some intense battles and Backes also dropped Ryan Ellis by the collar in the corners. Mattias Ekholm wasn’t shy following whistles either.
“More or less, we just wanted to defend the front of our net,” said Ekholm on the physicality of the game. “I think no one should be allowed to get in front of Pekka at any time. You just have to be smart with it. Don’t take stupid penalties when you could maybe get the extra punch or that extra shove to someone. Just try to be hard in front of the net and stand up for our goaltender.”
Not to be outdone, goaltender Pekka Rinne posted the shutout against the Blue, making 28 saves and earning the arena’s second star in the effort.
“When he’s playing like this, he’s arguably one of the best goalies in the league and the world,” said Ekholm. “The way he’s playing right now is amazing. It just gives the whole team that extra boost. We don’t want to give up anything, but we feel like we can and he will still be there and bail us out. He’s just been unbelievable, and it’s always really nice to see.”
Nashville has now won four games in a row and are 6-1-3 in their last 10. The team is playing what is arguably their best hockey of the season, which is a complete turnaround from how the team was playing at this time last season.
“I’d rather come in like this,” said Ekholm on finishing the season strong. “Everyone is feeling good about themselves. Everyone is playing great. We win 5-0 against St. Louis on home ice on a Saturday. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Post game with Pekka Rinne and Peter Laviolette:
Photo credit: Christina McCullough