It Was the James Neal and Pekka Rinne Show as Preds Remain Undefeated in Regulation

Nashville, TN, United States / The Game Nashville

(Preds Photos Courtesy of: Kristen Jerkins Photography)

They came into the night as the only teams in the league still undefeated in regulation.

It didn’t end there.

In front of 17,157 at Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks met for the second time this season and it was the upstart Predators who prevailed. A natural hat trick by James Neal and tremendous work by Pekka Rinne in the crease sent Nashville to 5-0-2 on the season and vaulted them into a tie with the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Western Conference.

“What an effort by our guys,“ Head Coach Laviolette said. “Chicago played hard and they’re a tough team to play against but all of our guys showed up and they competed hard. A lot of second and third efforts. It was a real good team effort and a real good team win tonight.”

The Predators controlled the play for most of the first period but it was Chicago who struck first. Ben Smith’s goal signified the fifth time in Nashville’s seven games that they have allowed the first goal of the game.

“Obviously we don’t want to get behind but it’s a 60 minute game,” Paul Gaustad said. “I don’t feel like we’re deflating on the bench by any means we just know that we have to score to win the game. We know that we have that in here and we just try to stay consistent and try to wear down teams.”

In the final minute of the opening frame, the Predators answered. To explain this goal, however, one has to go back to the NHL Draft this past summer. General Manager David Poile knew his team needed a true sniper. In response, he acquired Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Fast forward to the end of the first period on Thursday night. Neal corralled the puck in the attacking zone, veered toward the slot and unleashed an absolute laser and tucked it under the cross bar for the tying goal.

“Sometimes you can’t control who scores first but if our guys come to the rink with that mindset on Saturday I’m going to like the way our team plays,” Laviolette said about trading goals in the first period. “I would take that first period, the way our guys attacked the game and I’ll gladly take it Saturday.”

In the middle frame, Mattias Ekholm was called for holding and it was Chicago’s turn to pour it on. They spent their entire two minute power play in the Nashville zone but the Predators stood firm. Tired, but firm.

“I almost called a timeout while they had the puck but I don’t think you can do that. That’s basketball,” Gaustad, one of the four penalty killers, joked. “I thought we did a good job at containing and keeping shots to the outside as much as possible.”

“You try to limit – as much as you can – putting that team on the power play,” Laviolette said. “I thought our guys did an unbelievable job, sacrificing their body and blocking shots. Sometimes you’ve got to get through a penalty kill [like that] and come out unscathed. Our guys did an incredible job.”

Shortly afterward, the Predators captured the momentum when Filip Forsberg found Neal for a blast that, once again, was tucked under the cross bar at maximum velocity for the go-ahead tally.

In the final stanza, Neal completed the natural hat trick — the fifth trick of his career — when he buried a Ryan Ellis shot that slid his way after the initial save by Raanta.

“Coming to a new team, you want to do so well,” Neal said. “Everything kind of fell into place tonight.”

Chicago’s Andrew Shaw took advantage of a miscue by Mattias Ekholm and attempted to propel his team to a comeback but Rinne was there to repeatedly slam the door shut.

The win puts Nashville at 5-0-2, the lead team in the Central Division and a tie for the lead team in the West. It also makes them the only team in the entire league who remains undefeated in regulation. If all that wasn’t enough, the road to a playoff berth presumably will go through Chicago and this was a statement win in those efforts.

“We can’t pat ourselves on the back too much tonight,” Gaustad said. “We’ve got another good team coming in so we’ll enjoy it for a couple minutes and then move on.”

That other “good team coming in” features some familiar faces. Former Predators Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling will make their first appearance as members of a visiting team when the Penguins come to town on Saturday. They, of course, will be joined by perennial all-stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as well.

“Tonight, the guys were on point,” Laviolette said. “But we’ve got to wake up tomorrow and start dialing it up in a different direction. There’s a bunch of good hockey players coming to town so we’ve got to be ready.”

Puck drops at 7:00pm Central and you can catch all the action on 102.5 The Game.

MY THREE STARS (as voted on with 5:30 remaining in regulation):
1. James Neal (NSH)
2. Pekka Rinne (NSH)
3. Filip Forsberg (NSH)

1. James Neal (NSH)
2. Pekka Rinne (NSH)
3. Filip Forsberg (NSH)

Your October 23, 2014 installment of Five Minute Overtime:


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