In front of 15,667 at Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators improved to 20-2-1 at home this year and extended their home winning streak to nine, a new club record. Tuesday’s victim? The struggling Toronto Maple Leafs who nearly pulled it out but lost, 4-3.
Toronto is now 0-9-1 in their last 10.
In goal, Carter Hutton was exceptional in the first two periods and then, when he needed to be the most, he crossed over into unbelievable in the waning moments of regulation. He made 25 saves on 28 Toronto shots but also made SportsCenter’s top play of the night with this beauty.
“I thought it was ear-marked for the back of the net but then it wasn’t in the back of the net,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette recalled. “So something spectacular happened. Carter was sharp, he did a terrific job.”
Long before Hutton’s heroics, James Neal was sitting in the penalty box for slashing in the first period. Seth Jones, however, paid that little mind as he broke in shorthanded and put one past Jonathan Bernier to open the scoring.
Nashville would keep the strong special teams play rolling as Shea Weber wound up on the power play just a few minutes later and blasted a shot past Bernier to make it 2-0.
In the middle frame, Daniel Winnik got the Leafs on the board when he fired a shot from the high slot past Hutton.
Following a Matt Cullen breakaway at the end of the second, Bernier came off the ice and headed down the tunnel with an injury. Since it was a sliding save, there was some speculation that he had re-aggravated his groin injuries from last season but word surfaced that he was actually cut on the play. Back-up goaltender James Reimer finished out the period turning aside both shots he faced.
With Reimer still between the pipes in the third, Nazem Kadri and Mike Santorelli scored back-to-back goals in less than a minute. All of a sudden, the complexion of the game had changed.
“We totally had it going in our direction,” Leafs head coach Peter Horachek said. “We got our momentum and started playing faster and skating better. We got ourselves back into the game.”
But then Laviolette called timeout to shake up his troops.
“Just the way we played in the last 10 minutes [of the second] and first few minutes of the third period, we weren’t going to be successful,” Laviolette said. “I would rather get up to the plate and swing for home runs, regardless of score. You got to give our guys a lot of credit because there was definitely a response from that point on.”
Indeed there was. Bernier re-entered the game and Nashville made sure that was a decision Horachek would regret.
First, Wilson whipped a gorgeous pass from along the boards to Fisher who buried his 13th of the year. Then Fisher returned the favor by dishing a pass to Wilson who slammed it past a scrambling Bernier to retake the lead and make it 4-3.
“We did a good job off the rush when Fish got one and, on the other one, guys were just hungry,” Weber said. “Willie got to the net and managed to whack it in. It wasn’t our best effort but you have to find ways to win sometimes.”
Find ways to win indeed. The Predators have done that all season long and there are still 32 more games to go. Just one example is third period goals. Nashville has scored 58 goals in the final frame, fourth most in the league.
Thursday’s tilt at Bridgestone is a heavyweight match up as Anaheim Ducks come to town. The two best teams in the league go head-to-head to see who can claim – at least temporarily – that they’re the best. Anaheim and Nashville both have 72 points in the standings.
Can the Preds make it 10 in a row?
“All of the teams in this League take a lot of pride in playing at home,” Weber said. “We especially do. We want to make it tough for teams to come into this building and play. It’s a big advantage when you can have that kind of record at home.”
After all, 21-2-1 does have a nice ring to it.
Puck drops at 7:00pm Central.
MY THREE STARS (as voted on with 6:20 remaining in regulation):
1. Mike Fisher (NSH)
2. Colin Wilson (NSH)
3. Carter Hutton (NSH)
THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
1. Colin Wilson (NSH)
2. Mike Fisher (NSH)
3. Mike Santorelli (TOR)
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover // TheGameNashville.com