Ryan Hartman broke a scoreless tie and Pekka Rinne recorded his seventh shutout of the season as the Nashville Predators defeated the Dallas Stars, 2-0. Tuesday night’s victory at Bridgestone Arena is Nashville’s ninth straight, setting a franchise record for consecutive wins.
Coming off a four-game road trip, Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette admitted his team may have been a bit sluggish at the start, but they got going and used a big push in the third period to break through and collect their 94th and 95th points of the season and surpass their total from the previous campaign.
“I thought we played pretty solid,” Preds center Mike Fisher said. “We knew that they played last night and hopefully it tired them out. We just kept putting pressure on the goaltender, who’s been playing pretty well. We did that. Hartman scored a timely goal, and that was the difference.”
The first two periods of the contest went scoreless, but at 5:33 of the third period, Hartman – playing in his first game in front of the home crowd – perfectly placed a backhand shot past Kari Lehtonen and into the top corner of the cage to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.
“We had a lot of chances coming into the period,” Hartman said. “I think [Dallas] got a little tired; they played last night. We just tried to stick with it. If we kept playing hard, the goals were going to come. That one felt good.”
Rinne continued to turn aside Dallas shots down the stretch, stopping 26 in all for his 50th career shutout, and then Nick Bonino sealed it with an empty-net tally with 14 seconds to play.
“We just had to make sure we were playing good defensively and make sure Pekka could see everything,” Fisher said. “With the way we were playing, it felt like it was coming – it was just a matter of time. I felt like we played a solid game. We got better as the game went on, and that was a good sign.”
It’s been quite a run as of late for Nashville, finding just about every way possible to continue to string together victories. And while the final stretch of 16 games will only get tougher as the regular season trudges along, the Predators are simply enjoying what they have going – and it shows.
“This is a really tight team, and I think all those things come together and you see it on the ice,” Rinne said. “When things are going well, everything is a little bit easier. You feel good about yourself. You come to the rink with a smile on your face, and a lot of good things are happening to us right now. We just have to enjoy it.”
When the Predators lost two consecutive games in regulation in the middle of February – a rare occurrence under head coach Peter Laviolette – those in the locker room realized their play could be better.
All they’ve done since then is rattle off nine consecutive wins to set a franchise record and collect 18 points in the standings, enough to give them not only a six-point lead over Winnipeg in the Central Division, but also a six-point point cushion over Vegas and those same Jets to pace the Western Conference.
Hockey players typically live day to day, not necessarily looking too far back into the past or thinking too far ahead into the future. But they knew about their streak, a chance to make their mark in the club record books – and they did just that.
“We talk about everything in there,” Laviolette said. “We talk about a division [title], a conference [title], the regular season, Fisher coming back, putting your name on something. Those are all great opportunities for our club to fight for something, and I thought they did. I thought as the game went on and it was 0-0, I thought we fought to get that goal, and then I thought we fought really hard to keep it there.”
Whether they’ve had to win by closing out a tight game or coming from behind, blowing out an opponent or prevailing in fairytale fashion, the Predators continue to find themselves on the right side of the ledger. And right now, that’s all that matters.
“As a bigger picture, I think the last 30 games or something our stats are pretty remarkable,” Rinne said. “It’s fun right now with nine wins in a row. We’re feeling good. The team is healthy, and we’re clicking really well. It’s so much fun.”
“I’ve played with some good teams, but this one feels really special,” Fisher said. “There’s no question. We’re doing all we can do to finish on top and play really, really well down the stretch here, and play as well as we can going into the playoffs.”
Preds forward Craig Smith skated in his 500th career game on Tuesday, all with Nashville. Smith sits in ninth place on the franchise’s all-time games played list, just two behind forwards Greg Johnson and Colin Wilson.
Mike Fisher skated in his second game of the season and his first at Bridgestone Arena since Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
The Predators have 10 team shutouts, the most in the NHL. It is the first time the Preds have recorded 10 shutouts as a team since the 2008-09 season when they also had 10. Rinne’s seven shutouts this season tie a career high (2008-09, 2009-10).
The Predators continue their home stand on Thursday night when the Anaheim Ducks come to town, followed by a meeting with New Jersey on Saturday and then Winnipeg on Tuesday. Preds General Manager David Poile will be honored with a pregame ceremony on Thursday to commemorate him becoming the NHL’s all-time winningest GM.