Juuse Saros stopped all 29 shots he faced, and the Nashville Predators defeated the Minnesota Wild by a 3-0 final on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.
The result gives the Preds a victory in the second half of the home-and-home set – after falling to Minnesota on Friday night – with a three-goal third period on Saturday and a quality effort to close out 2017 and retake first place in the Central Division with 51 points.
“It was another good game,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was a tight game, but we were much more competitive start to finish. We were much better in the tight area around our net. In front of [Saros], I thought we did a good job. We knew, even going out into the third period, that it was a matter of staying mentally in it, and physically in it and look for a break.”
“It’s a good response and a big win for us,” Saros said. “It shows good character from us.”
It was a goaltending duel through the game’s first 40 minutes with Saros and Alex Stalock making 18 and 19 saves, respectively, but less than three minutes into the third period, Scott Hartnell converted on a wraparound for his fifth tally of the season and a 1-0 Nashville lead.
Then, P.K. Subban’s blast on the power play changed direction and found its way into the cage to give him his 11th point in his last nine outings and his ninth tally of the season to lead all Preds defensemen.
Viktor Arvidsson iced it with an empty-netter and Saros continued to shut the door the rest of the way to post his second shutout of the season.
“He’s a terrific young goalie, and I think you’re starting to see that now,” Laviolette said of Saros.
After being a healthy scratch on Friday in Minnesota, Hartnell returned to make an immediate impact in his return to the lineup, scoring a goal around the net that Laviolette called “his bread and butter.” It was exactly the type of play the Preds hope to receive from the veteran forward.
“He’s trying hard out there,” Laviolette said of Hartnell. “I thought how that play unfolded – his awareness to get that puck up there and bring it around… If you can put him 10 feet in front of the net, that’s where he needs to be and that’s where he’s at his best.”
The Predators were adamant after Friday’s loss they would learn from their mistakes and be better on Saturday. They were, and as the calendar prepares to flip from the year that was the most successful in franchise history, a small but meaningful win such as this became just the latest installment of what the Predators hope will be an even better 2018.
“It’s a lot about our leadership group – Roman Josi, Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell – those guys do a good job of keeping the temperature of the room at the right temperature and making sure that guys are focused on the right things,” Subban said. “That’s just the next shift, the next play. Whether we make mistakes or not, we’re such a tight group.”
The Juice Is Loose:
After an 0-3-0 start to the campaign for Juuse Saros, Nashville sent their backup netminder to the American Hockey League on a few occasions to get some more work and fine tune his game.
Saros is now 4-0-2 in his last six starts and has posted shutouts in two of his last three outings to give the Preds a formidable one-two punch in net alongside fellow Finn Pekka Rinne.
Saturday’s effort against Minnesota was just the latest installment in the career of the young netminder to prove he has what it takes to find success at the NHL level and give his club a chance to win every time he gets the call.
“He was awesome,” Subban said of Saros. “Both [Saros and Rinne] have been just stellar for us. I think we felt really bad letting Pekka down yesterday. He kept us in the game making  saves in the first period. We wanted to make sure we came out with a better effort today, and I felt we did that.”
“He’s really confident right now,” Laviolette said of Saros. “He’s playing really well. I thought our guys did a much better job around him, but there’s still big saves that needed to be made and he made them. He’s got some confidence. His last six outings have been terrific.”
Prior to Saturday’s game, the Predators placed forward Filip Forsberg on Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury, with Head Coach Peter Laviolette adding that there is no timetable yet for Forsberg’s return to the lineup. The Preds also recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from AHL Milwaukee.
With a goal and assist tonight, P.K. Subban continued his run offensively with his 11th point in his last nine games.
With the Nashville’s 2017 portion of the schedule now complete, they’ll begin the new year out west with a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 2, followed by meetings with the Coyotes and Kings next week.