ashton-remaxEver since trading Patric Hornqvist in 2014, the Nashville Predators have been looking for a player that can consistently crash the net and clean up rebounds in front of the goaltender.

They may have found that guy in Austin Watson, as the 6’4” forward is on a three-game goal streak, including one tally in a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.

“He’s been doing everything right,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “His physicality, his defensive play, his offensive play. He’s been a real force for our team.”

His second period goal got the Predators on the board after a scoreless first frame. The puck was bouncing around in front of Bruins goaltender Zane McIntyre, and Watson found his way to the net, brought the puck to his forehand and rifled it in.

It was crafty and skilled, as the former first round draft pick was able to control the puck and get a good shot off in a tight space.

Watson said he’s felt the need to compete with the Predators missing some key pieces due to injury.

“It feels great to contribute,” he said. “Obviously, with guys like Neal, Subban and Wilson, out of our lineup, they’re good goal scorers and point-getters for us. So, guys need to step up and we’ve done a good job of that.”

He earned the goal by crashing the net and picking up a loose puck, something the Predators have emphasized in practice.

“Laviolette and the staff talk about it all year, and sometimes it seems like we’re doing it and not getting a little bit of the bounces,” Watson said. “But, you can tell when we’re giving that extra effort for it, we’re getting rewarded.”

The goal was Watson’s seventh of his NHL career and fourth this season. He’s played 38 games this season with the Predators, and has already tied his 57-game point total from last season. Getting that extra playing time and getting to the net has worked wonders for the 2010 first round pick.

“The more you play, the more minutes, the key situations you’re in, you learn a lot about yourself,” he said. “I just want to continue to do well in that role. Those are big opportunities given to me and I’m trying to make the most of them.”

Boston responded to Watson’s goal about seven minutes later with a power play goal by Torey Krug. However, late in the third period, Filip Forsberg took an alley-oop pass from Ryan Ellis, fended off a Bruins defender and got the puck past McIntyre for the eventual game-winner.

The Predators spent the whole third period clinging to the lead, getting outshot 13-4 in the process. Juuse Saros stood tall, making a couple of key stops to preserve the win for Nashville.

This game against a hard-hitting Bruins team was no easy test. The Predators had to battle for 60 minutes in a gritty, gutsy slugfest. For the second straight game, the Predators had to win by just one goal.

Prior to Tuesday’s overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Predators had just three wins by one goal, including a shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers in December. They’ve nearly matched that total in just one week.

According to Watson, it’s these kinds of games that the team needed to learn how to win.

“It’s another one that we battled for,” he said. “Having that lead in the third period and taking it down to the wire like we did, that shows a lot of character out of our group and it’s good that we know how to win those games.”

The Predators go on the road for the next 10 days, starting with a Saturday matinee in Colorado against the Avalanche. Puck drop is scheduled for 2:00 PM central.