The Predators thought they had won once. Turns out they just needed a few more minutes.
Pekka Rinne stopped all three skaters he faced in the shootout as Nashville defeated the Minnesota Wild by a 2-1 final on Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena. The result snaps Nashville’s three-game winless skid and sees them clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
After Minnesota tied it late, Ryan Ellis tallied in overtime – but after the goal was overturned due to an offside play, it took a shootout for the Preds to emerge victorious in a game that brought one of their best efforts in the past few outings.
“It was our best game for a while now,” Preds Captain Roman Josi said. “We played really well defensively. They didn’t have too many chances, and [Rinne] was there for us whenever they did have a chance. I thought it was a complete effort from us, and it’s good to be back in the win column.”
It took Josi less than three minutes into the contest to blast home his 12th of the season, but that was it for the next 54 minutes as Rinne and Devan Dubnyk stood tall for their respective teams. However, with 3:15 to play, Eric Staal potted his 40th of the season to force OT, and it was Kyle Turris who scored the lone goal in the shootout as the Preds prevailed.
Tuesday’s game marked the fifth meeting between the two this season – and second in four days – making the win all the more satisfying against a potential playoff opponent.
“You never know – in the first or second round or down the line, you might see these guys,” Rinne said. “At least the last two or three games against these guys, they’ve been pretty heated up and pretty physical too. You can tell there’s a lot of emotion when we play these guys.”
Although the losing streak was short-lived, it wasn’t something the Predators wanted to linger. Sunday’s effort in Winnipeg was something to build off of, and it continued straight on through to Nashville.
“We’re just excited to have a complete effort tonight, get a big win, and move on,” forward Scott Hartnell said.
Predators General Manager David Poile stated earlier in the season he’d be lying if he said he didn’t want to win a division title for the first time in franchise history.
His players have certainly done their part to try and make that a reality.
As the Preds defeated the Wild on Tuesday, it marked their 18th win against a division opponent this season, the most they’ve recorded in the past 10 seasons. Every game in the NHL is important, but when it’s a familiar foe across the ice, that magnitude increases tenfold.
And more often than not this season, the Preds rose to the challenge.
“We marked a schedule – I think it was 11 or 12 games out – and from that point I think we went 9-2-1 inside of our division,” Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “In order to try and secure that home ice for the playoffs for a round or hopefully two rounds, we knew we were going to have to take care of the division games.”
“Any time you play your own division, a lot of times it really is a four-point game,” Rinne said. “They’re always big swings when you’re playing in your own division. We’ve been doing a really good job and I think our coaching staff does a great job also preparing us and making sure that we understand that it’s a division game or even a Western Conference game.”
While the Predators remain atop the Central Division, second-place Winnipeg isn’t going away just yet and there’s still work to do to secure the top spot. But with that portion of the schedule coming to a close, Nashville’s ability to rise to the occasion when it matters most is noteworthy.
“One goal we set out at the beginning of the year was to win the Central Division and we took another step closer tonight to achieving that goal and keep on getting wins, and finish as high as we can,” Hartnell said. “It’s just been great efforts the whole year long, and especially tonight a big effort by everybody.”
Preds forward Austin Watson and defenseman Yannick Weber were both listed as day-to-day with upper-body injuries and did not play on Tuesday. Defenseman Alexei Emelin returned to the lineup from his upper-body injury.
The Predators now have 109 points on the season, just one away from tying a franchise record.
Nashville’s home stand continues on Thursday when the San Jose Sharks come to town before the Buffalo Sabres visit Bridgestone Arena on Saturday.
Pete Weber’s Postgame Report