If first impressions are everything, consider Ryan Hartman golden.
Hartman scored the game-winning goal with exactly one minute to play in regulation and the Nashville Predators came back to defeat the Winnipeg Jets by a 6-5 final on Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place. It’s Nashville’s fifth consecutive win, and the victory gives the Preds 87 points, good for a four-point lead over the Jets for the Central Division lead with one game in hand.
It was a record night for Preds Captain Roman Josi, who recorded five assists in the win, tying the franchise record for most assists and points in a single game. In addition, Predators General Manager David Poile collected his 1,319th career victory as an NHL GM, tying Glen Sather for the all-time record for wins by an NHL general manager.
And after the scoresheet was filled to capacity, there was only one way to sum up what had just played out.
“It was crazy,” Josi said. “It was a lot of fun, back and forth and definitely a high speed game. A lot of goals, lot of fun looking back – I guess not as fun for the coaches – but it was a pretty crazy game.”
“I like the six,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Could be better on the five, but I like the six. You never know, you never know what a game’s going to bring”
After a scoreless first period, the floodgates opened as the two clubs combined to score seven times in the middle stanza. Winnipeg tallied first, as former Preds forward Matt Hendricks beat Pekka Rinne for a 1-0 lead. Nashville winger Craig Smith got the Predators on the board when he potted a rebound past Connor Hellebuyck, but Mark Scheifele got the next two, giving Winnipeg a 3-1 advantage.
Nashville came back once more, first on a goal from Kyle Turris and then a power-play strike from Mattias Ekholm to even the score at 3-3. However, Nikolaj Ehlers beat Rinne on a rush before the frame was out to give his club the lead after a wild 20 minutes.
The third period was, at the very least, just as entertaining, at least if you’re a Predators fan. After Winnipeg took a 5-3 lead thanks to new Jets forward Paul Stastny, Nashville roared back. First, it was Smith getting his second of the game and 20th of the season to make it 5-4, and then Ryan Johansen made it 5-5 with 6:03 to play.
And to ice it, Josi found Hartman in front.
“I didn’t really have to do much for it,” Hartman said of his goal. “Josi put that right on my tape. I saw that seam, he saw that seam and I just pretty much put my knee on my stick there to make sure it didn’t get under my stick. But he put that right on the tape, great play by him.”
Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg – one that was billed as perhaps the most important contest of the regular season thus far for both sides – lived up to the hype. While a potential postseason matchup is still weeks away, there’s no denying these two could find themselves dancing in the springtime.
But for now, the Predators will certainly take the win, undoubtedly one of their grittiest, gutsiest efforts of the campaign.
“We knew before the game it was going to be a huge game,” Josi said. “It was probably the most important game up to this point in the season, and I thought we showed up, I thought we played really well in the first and I thought they were the better team in the second. We showed a lot of character in the third, and it’s a huge win and a great way for us to start off the road trip.”
Welcome to the Club:
Ryan Hartman only met his new teammates for the first time this morning. It looked as though he’d been playing with them for years.
Hartman was all over the ice in his Predators’ debut, and after creating chance after chance, the storybook ending came as he scored the winner with one minute left to play.
Sometimes the stories write themselves.
“That first goal is huge, and I’m pretty pumped up to get that in the first game,” Hartman said.
The scrappy winger, who proved he has plenty of offensive capability as well, felt confident prior to the contest that it wouldn’t take him long to become acclimated into the Nashville lineup. He certainly backed up that claim.
“He was awesome,” Laviolette said of his new winger. “He looked like he knew the system, he looked like he had been playing it forever just with regard to the offensive zone and what we were trying to do. It’s not an easy thing either, you walk into a locker room, you don’t know anybody, he doesn’t know any of the systems, he’s got video in front of him all day, he has to try to get some rest, and then to go out and play the game that he did, he was terrific.”
“He was great,” Josi said of Hartman. “Even before he scored that goal, he was really good. He was hard on the forecheck, he made a lot of good plays, had a lot of shots and I thought he played great and topped it off with the game-winner.”
Hartman, who primarily skated on a trio with Colton Sissons and Austin Watson throughout the night, complemented his linemates by getting in on the forecheck and, simply put, going to work. And when it was all said and done, the new guy endeared himself on night No. 1.
“The positivity in this room, even though you’re down a goal, down two goals, the guys know there’s enough tools in here to score plenty of goals and to win under any given time,” Hartman said. “It goes around the whole room.”
With five assists in Tuesday’s 6-5 win, Preds Captain Roman Josi tied Marek Zidlicky for the most assists in a single game in franchise history. Josi also tied the Nashville all-time mark for points in a single game alongside Zidlicky, Dan Hamhuis and J-P Dumont.
With two goals on Tuesday, Preds forward Craig Smith extended his career-high point streak to eight games (4g-5a).
Nashville’s four-game trip continues Thursday in Edmonton before facing the Canucks on Friday and then the Avalanche on Sunday afternoon.
Pete Weber’s Postgame Report