In front of 16,135 at Bridgestone Arena, Pekka Rinne put on his latest Vezina Trophy/Hart Trophy Show. With 32 saves (and goals from Shea Weber, Filip Forsberg and James Neal), the Nashville Predators beat the Winnipeg Jets, 3-1.
“He’s the best goalie in the world,” Roman Josi said. “The saves he makes out there are unbelievable sometimes. He’s been so consistent all year and he keeps us in games. It’s great to have him back there.”
With the win, Rinne improved to a league best 32-7-2 and 7-0-0 all-time versus Winnipeg.
The Jets were sky high, having acquired highly coveted defenseman Tyler Myers and veteran winger Drew Stafford from the Buffalo Sabres a day earlier. But Nashville was quick to stifle any extra jump Winnipeg had coming in. In the first of two power play markers by the Predators, Weber blasted a shot through everybody in blue to make the score 1-0.
“It was really important to get that first one,” Josi said. “I think the power play got us going. There’s not much space out there with those guys. They play a hard checking game.”
Winnipeg answered, however. Not to be outdone by his hardest shot rival, Dustin Byfuglien fired a rocket of his own that got through everybody in gold. On the way to the net, it was tipped by Michael Frolik to tie the game.
In the middle stanza – and again on the power play – Filip Forsberg broke Alexander Radulov’s rookie record for goals in a season with his 19th when he tucked a gorgeous wrist shot under the crossbar to re-take the lead.
“He’s such a special player,” Josi said of his teammate. “He’s really skilled and he makes things happen out there that not many guys can do. He’s had a great year so far and he’s been a huge part of our success.”
“It feels good but especially because I was able to contribute to this big win tonight,” Forsberg said. “All the division games are really tight and it could have gone either way but Pekka came up huge for us.”
In the final frame, Nashville found themselves with both Victor Bartley and Weber in the penalty box. Not only did that give the Jets a 5-on-3 advantage but it left them with just four defenseman – one of which was playing in just his third NHL game in Anthony Bitetto – available for the kill. Josi and Seth Jones left everything out on the ice as they lasted the entire time, helping to successfully kill all 1:31 of Winnipeg’s power play.
“That was a huge turning point in the game,” Eric Nystrom said. “If they score there, it’s a different game, but those guys battled it out.”
“With a goal there you never know what is going to happen in a game coming into the last five minutes,” Forsberg said. “It was really impressive to see how [the penalty killers] sacrificed themselves.”
Immediately following that defining moment came the dagger. Just six seconds after a Nashville power play ended, James Neal bagged his 19th of the year to keep pace with Forsberg for the team lead and put the final nail in the coffin.
There was an interesting moment in the final stages, however. The Jets emptied their net for an extra attacker but, with a little over a minute to play, Mathieu Perrault was being called for holding. On a delayed penalty, the to-be-penalized team can’t touch the puck without play being stopped so, typically, the attacking team will empty their own net for a sixth skater. But the Predators were up by two. And the Jets net was empty. Sounds like a perfect time to pass the puck back to Rinne so he can take a shot at scoring a goal.
“He doesn’t have a goal yet, right?” Josi asked. “That would’ve been cool if he had got one. But Volchenkov had it. We were hoping ‘Volchy’ would put it in and get his first one [of the year]. We were yelling at him to put it in.”
Volchenkov hasn’t scored since March 19, 2013 when he was a member of the New Jersey Devils.
Speaking of the Devils, they’re the next opponent for the Preds. Since being traded from the team that drafted him, Jordin Tootoo has played Nashville four times, notching a goal, an assist and has taken zero penalties. Saturday will be his first game against the Predators since signing with New Jersey last summer.
Puck drops at 7:00pm Central.
MY THREE STARS (as voted on with 5:50 remaining in regulation):
1. Pekka Rinne (NSH)
2. Roman Josi (NSH
3. Filip Forsberg (NSH)
THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
1. Pekka Rinne (NSH)
2. Filip Forsberg (NSH)
3. Shea Weber (NSH)
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover // TheGameNashville.com