The drama persisted up until the final play of the game, as the Nashville Predators claimed two points in New Jersey with a 6-5 shootout win on Thursday night.
Nashville tied the score on three separate occasions across the final half of regulation, forced overtime and prevailed in the shootout behind goals from Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene. The comeback victory gives the Preds two wins in a back-to-back set and sees them sitting two points out of a Wild Card spot, with two games in hand.
“We’re just finding a way right now,” Duchene said. “There’s still some stuff we need to clean up… but [goaltender Pekka Rinne] was great when we needed him, and it’s just a team effort. We don’t want to give up five goals, but the fact that we’re scoring five is great. We need more of that, and these are two huge wins.”
“It’s a big win,” Preds Head Coach John Hynes said. “We came into the road trip, we won back-to-back games, and this was a great game where you’re playing against a rested team. That was a big step for our team to be able to come from behind and find a way to win.”
Mattias Ekholm waited only 42 seconds into Thursday’s contest to give the Preds a 1-0 lead, when his point shot deflected off a New Jersey defender and past Mackenzie Blackwood. Four minutes later, Devils forward Pavel Zacha got his first of the night, while shorthanded, to even the score. The Predators were able to emerge from the opening period with a 2-1 lead after Filip Forsberg tallied his team-leading 17th of the season at the 8:17 mark.
In the second, Nick Bonino potted his 15th, but the Devils added three of their own – courtesy of Zacha, Nikita Gusev and Jesper Bratt – to give the home team a 4-3 lead after 40 minutes.
“We came in, and we were ready to play in the first, but the second period [wasn’t good],” Forsberg said. “But then we battled back again in the same situation like last night. There’s a lot of fight in this team, and we’ve shown that the last two games.”
The visitors were in the exact spot they were in 24 hours prior: down 4-3 and starting the third period. Another goal in the opening minute of a period – this time from Duchene – brought Nashville back even. But when the Devils retook a one-goal lead at 6:37, the Predators were forced to play catchup once again.
Forsberg gave the Preds one more answer with their third power-play goal in the last four games, when his iconic wrister worked again, beating Blackwood cleanly for a 5-5 game.
“I just like our effort,” Forsberg said. “There’s been times where we’ve been down a couple goals going into the third, and we just quit playing. That’s the biggest thing, just a mentality… and just that belief is back a little bit.”
The duo of Forsberg and Duchene came up clutch one more time in the shootout, as both converted their attempts to seal the road victory. That sets the stage for a pivotal game in Music City on Saturday night. A regulation win over the Vegas Golden Knights will vault the Predators back into playoff positioning for the first time in weeks.
“You’ve got to feel good about these wins, and that’s something we haven’t done this year,” Duchene said. “When we’ve won games, won big games, that’s kind of been like we’re a team that’s expected to win. But you’ve got to ride the momentum and feel good about ourselves… [With these two wins], now we can we can start feeling good about ourselves.”
Not only did the Preds win one for Hynes in his first game back in New Jersey to coach against his former team, but with the victory, general manager David Poile became the winningest GM – regular season and postseason combined – in NHL history with No. 1,507.
Indeed, there is plenty for the Predators to feel good about right now, but they know they need to keep that fire ignited, and they can’t wait for Saturday night in Smashville.
“It’s never going to be perfect this time of year,” Duchene said. “We’re a team that’s fighting for everything right now… and I thought we did a great job sticking with it. Some timely goals, we never got down, and we’re showing great mental strength. What’s great about this is we kind of hit rock bottom, and now we’re coming on the way up. Our best is yet to come. We’re working and we should feel so great about these two wins and bring that enthusiasm, that confidence and that swagger into Saturday.”
Preds forward Colton Sissons returned to the Nashville lineup on Thursday night after missing action since December 27 due to a lower-body injury.
Forward Calle Jarnkrok missed Thursday’s game due to illness. Forward Yakov Trenin took his place in the lineup. Colin Blackwell and Matt Irwin were also scratched for the Predators.
With their back-to-back road set now complete, the Preds return to Nashville to host the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday evening (at 7 p.m. CT) at Bridgestone Arena.