Mattias Ekholm recorded his 100thcareer assist, Nashville posted its second-highest face-off win percentage in franchise history (74.1 percent), Pekka Rinne tied Miikka Kiprusoff for the most wins (319) by a Finnish goaltender in NHL history.
And yet, the most memorable moment of the night came with 10.6 seconds left in the game when Ekholm crashed his own net, swatted away a loose puck that got past a tied-up Rinne and preserved the Preds second win over the Lightning.
“I could have lived without the last one,” Ekholm joked after the game. “But it was the way it happened, and I was just trying to keep it out of the net, and it worked out. It was a good night for us; we played a fast-paced game. It was two great teams going at it, and we got the last punch. We were battling hard all night.”
“I ended up making a save, and then it hit somebody’s back and went over me, and Ekholm was right there to bail me out,” Rinne recalled. “It was a huge play by him. We knew we were going to get pressured hard there at the end with their skill and six guys on the ice. But our guys did a great job – we blocked a lot of shots and made it hard for them.”
Without Ekholm’s heads-up play, the game was surely heading for overtime, which would have been a backbreaker for a team that furiously fought for the final 16:35 to hold off the league’s top scoring offense.
“I didn’t see it from where I was sitting and I couldn’t tell what was going on behind the goalie, but I’m sure I’ll see it when I go back and look at it,” Preds coach Peter Laviolette said. “I know there were a ton of guys swarming to play defense and that there’s a lot of offensive talent on the other squad. We made a couple of mistakes in the neutral zone and that cost us one of the goals. Give them credit because they came with speed and filled the holes, but for the most part I believe our guys did a great job.”
“It was a tight game,” Preds forward Filip Forsberg added. “They’re a really good hockey team over there. I think we played really good for two periods, and then in the third period we kind of sat back a little too much. We gave them too much time. They have some fire power over there, and they can hurt you.
“But we battled through it, guys worked hard and did an unbelievable job at the end. Pekka tonight saved us. This game was 3-2, but I think it was a better game than the one we played against them earlier.”
Nashville got goals from Kyle Turris, Forsberg and Ryan Johansen, while Ekholm tallied two assists. Rinne stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced, improving to 9-0-1 all-time against Tampa Bay. With the win, the Preds have also swept the season series with the No. 2 team in the league entering Monday’s game. Nashville also beat Tampa Bay 4-1 back on Nov. 1.
“We have 82 games in the year and all of those won’t be as special,” Ekholm said. “But when it’s 1 versus 2, or we’re playing a really good opponent, I feel like everybody is bringing their A-game. It was just two good teams going at it and it was huge for us to get the win.”
“I thought we played a much better game than we did down in Tampa, even though we got the win,” Laviolette added. “When that game was over, we met the next day as a group to talk about the standard of play we want here and that first game was not it.
“We relied way too much on our goaltender and chances were lopsided in Tampa’s favor. We wanted to play a better game than we played down there and we know they’re one of the top teams in the League. It was a good game and a good match up.”