What a way to start.
Nashville scored four in the third and Matt Duchene recorded three assists in his Predators debut to help his club to a 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Opening Night at Bridgestone Arena.
The result gives the Preds six-consecutive wins over Minnesota, and better yet, a victory to begin the season.
“It was great,” Duchene said of the opener. “Even when we were down 2-1, I don’t think we ever thought we weren’t going to win the game. I thought from start to finish we were the better team. They had a good little push there in the second, a couple tough bounces off the ref’s skate, off my skate, but I thought we stuck with it. [Pekka Rinne] was outstanding, and we had everyone going.”
“Other than [a few minutes in the second period], I thought we played really well,” Preds Captain Roman Josi said. “Home opener, we want to start off on a good foot, and this was the perfect game. We were down, we had to battle back, and it’s a really big win for us.”
It looked as though the Predators had taken a 1-0 lead on a first-period power play, but Mikael Granlund was ruled to have batted the puck with a high stick before it struck Nick Bonino and entered the net, therefore negating the goal.
Nashville eventually scored the opening marker in the second stanza, however, as Filip Forsberg’s pass found Ryan Ellis and caromed into the net past Devan Dubnyk for a 1-0 lead. Preds forward Matt Duchene picked up the secondary assist on the play in his first game with his new club.
But before the period was out, Minnesota struck twice, first on the power play at the 16:04 mark, and then they got another less than a minute later to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
It didn’t matter, however, because in the third, Nashville exploded for three goals in the first eight minutes of the period. It started with Granlund directing a point shot from Roman Josi past Dubnyk to even the score in the first minute of the frame.
Less than two minutes later, Austin Watson deflected in a pass from Ellis while on the seat of his pants, and Viktor Arvidsson smacked home a juicy rebound at the 7:32 mark to put the Preds up by two.
“[Head Coach Peter Laviolette] woke us up at the second intermission,” Rinne said. “He wasn’t happy with the second period, but we really stepped it up in the third, and the guys did a great job.”
Rinne made two of his best saves of the night when he stopped Jason Zucker twice to keep his team up by two, and then Filip Forsberg iced it with an empty-netter as Duchene collected his third helper.
Duchene certainly impressed in his first official contest with his team, and while his trio of apples undoubtedly helped his cause, he also made a positive difference just about every time he touched the ice.
“That’s pretty good,” Josi quipped of Duchene’s three assists. “He was great. He was making plays all over the ice. Doesn’t surprise me to be honest, he was unbelievable in preseason and you can tell how good he is. We’re really glad to have him here, and he’s an unbelievable player.”
“This is where he wanted to be, we wanted to have him, and it finally happened,” Laviolette said. “He’s stepped right in; I mean, this is, I think if you ask him, this is his home, like Nashville is his home. He wants to be here, he wants this to be a place where he thrives, and he’s bringing that to work right now and it really shows.”
And for Duchene, the introduction to his new home was everything he imagined it would be.
“I had high expectations, I came in kind of trying to stay even-keeled, but it’s blown my expectations out of the water,” Duchene said. “I haven’t even gotten to do a quarter of what I wanted to do around the city yet. But as a team, this is the exact team that I wanted to come and join. This decision to come here was hockey first all the way, and that was so much fun for me to go out and play with the team tonight.”
Yes, there are still 81 games to go, and the two points collected in the standings count just the same tonight as they will in March, but still, no one wants to drop their opener on home ice.
The Predators took care of business, and if tonight was any indication, this team is capable of rattling off a few more victories of this nature in the months to come.
“It’s huge,” Rinne said of the win. “There’s no denying that it’s always big, the first game of the season. Mentally, and just confidence-wise, it’s always a big game. You don’t want to go down 0-1 to start the season, and I thought that we handled it really well after being down 2-1 and finding our way back… We had a quick start in the third, and after that we took control.”
“The fans are – I mean, it’s just tough to compare any other fanbase in the League,” Duchene said. “It’s amazing. It was really fun to give them what they deserved tonight with a big W.”
For the third consecutive season, the Predators hung another banner on Opening Night, this time to commemorate their second-straight Central Division title.
Craig Smith’s assist on Viktor Arvidsson’s goal was his 300th point in the NHL.
With three assists in his Preds debut, Matt Duchene was one point shy of the most by a player in their first game with the team, a mark set by Steve Sullivan on Feb. 18, 2004, against San Jose.
Nashville has now won 10 of its last 13 home openers.
Thursday’s attendance of 17,455 is the 154th consecutive sellout at Bridgestone Arena.
Nashville’s four-game homestand to open the season continues on Saturday night (at 7 p.m. CT) when the Detroit Red Wings come to town. The San Jose Sharks make their way to Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday, and the Washington Capitals follow on Thursday.
Pete Weber’s Postgame Report