It was a tale of two games all jumbled up into one Thursday night between the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks. After two periods of losing battles and trailing 2-0, the Predators were able to rally back and take down the Canucks in the shootout with a final score of 3-2.
Throughout the first period, Nashville was sluggish and continued to give Vancouver a lot of space on the ice. It didn’t take long for the Canucks end their three-plus game scoreless drought, but the problem was that the Predators didn’t respond to either of Vancouver’s two goals. On the positive side for the first 40 minutes, Nashville did recognize what they were doing wrong and they were determined to fix it.
“I really thought we had a couple good shifts in the first couple minutes, but then we sat down and stayed back a little bit,” said Mattias Ekholm. “We got too constructive in the neutral zone, didn’t get pucks deep, we didn’t forecheck hard. Then they got the power-play goal and we sat back a bit. We gave ourselves a chance in the second. I thought we got up better. Then in the third, I think that’s as good of a third period as we’ve had all year.”
Teams always talk about playing a full 60 minutes each and every game. No team can accomplish this for every single game, but when a team goes down after playing a few bad minutes, it’s the good teams that can battle back. Nashville did that Thursday night.
“There’s no way you’re going to play a complete 60 minutes 82 times a year; there’s just no way. To be able to turn that switch on for a period, for 10 minutes, whatever it is, and then score those key goals and get points and keep rolling on teams is huge.”
One could sense in the third period that all the Predators needed was one goal and they would get the spark they needed. When James Neal scored at 11:56 of the third, it was as if the entire arena received an adrenaline shot. Just 1:12 later, Filip Forsberg tied the game at 2-2 and the home crowd was roaring.
“It was just loud, it was awesome,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “We needed that, we really needed it and the goal was just the starting point. We just needed some more energy and the fans gave us that and we were able to push through and continue that pace for the rest of the period and into the overtime and shootout.”
Ekholm, who assisted on Forsberg’s tying goal, echoed Laviolette’s thoughts.
“Throughout the whole year, I know all we need is a few minutes to really turn it on,” said Ekholm, who was on the ice for both regulation goals. “This time, we really turned it on. Especially at home, when our fans get going, there’s nothing stopping us. I thought we steamrolled them in the third. It shouldn’t take us that long to get going, but once we did get a huge goal to get us going, we can beat any team in this league. Obviously it’s a huge win, and the way to battle back for the boys I think tells a lot about the group. I’m very happy with the effort tonight.”
With their win in the shootout, Nashville moved to 4-1 on the season in the shootout. A big difference from the 1-12 record they have in overtime. Ekholm joked about how the team should focus on getting to the shootout.
“With the non-success we’ve have in overtime, I think we’ve had a lot of success in shootouts this year, which we didn’t have last year,” Ekholm said. “Maybe we should just put a defensive trio out there every time and just shut it down in overtime.”
Along with the momentum of timely goals in third, the two shootout goals for the Predators were, what the hockey world calls “sick.” Both Craig Smith and Ryan Johansen put on a show to get the puck past Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller.
“That’s what they are paid to do,” said Ekholm. “They are skill players and great in shootouts. We always have a chance to win. The guys did a great job.”
With the win, the Predators moved to within two points of the Chicago Blackhawks for third in the Central Division and maintain a six-point lead on Minnesota.
Post game with Ryan Johansen, Pekka Rinne & Peter Laviolette:
Photo credit: Christina McCullough