The Minnesota Wild, finally having clinched a playoff berth, decided to rest starting goalie Devan Dubnyk, leading scorer Zach Parise, third leading scorer Thomas Vanek and second-leading goal scorer Nino Niederreiter. As a result, the Nashville Predators should cruise to a victory, right?
In front of 17,236 at Bridgestone Arena, the Preds played a solid first and third periods but lost 4-2 thanks to two second period tallies by the Wild.
“If you just cruise for 35 minutes, it’s not good enough if you try and win a hockey game in the last 20,” Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette said. “You need to play the full 60. It’s frustrating.”
Things looked great for the Preds early on. Less than three minutes into the contest, rookie Filip Forsberg bagged his 25th – becoming just the 12th Predator to score 25 in a season – when he carried across the blueline, wound up and blasted a rocket past Darcy Kuemper to open the scoring.
Nearly 10 minutes later, Seth Jones put a routine wrist shot on net from the point that got through traffic in front and made the game 2-0. It was exactly the start the Predators were looking for as Kuemper hadn’t played since January 20.
“We didn’t think we played our best period in the first and we were fortunate to be up 2-0,” Predators forward Taylor Beck said. “We kind of fell back in the second period. We gave them a lot of chances and they capitalized on them.”
Capitalized they did as Minnesota got both goals back in quick fashion late in the middle frame. Jason Zucker was on the receiving end of a fortunate bounce to make it 1-0 and then Marco Scandella tied the game by spinning away from Forsberg and beating Rinne far top corner.
A Jason Pominville marker late in regulation sealed the surprising victory for a voluntarily depleted Minnesota team.
Thursday night would mark the fourth time in the past seven games that Nashville has jumped out to at least a 2-0 lead only to either scrape and claw for a win, a point or even come away with a loss. It’s also the sixth time in their last eight that they’ve allowed multiple second period goals.
“We’re coming out pretty good but we’ve just got to be better in the second period,” Beck said. “With the caliber of team that we have, if we get up a couple goals, the game should practically be over. No one’s happy with the effort.”
The Predators will have one last chance to right the ship before the playoffs start on Wednesday. They’ll travel to Dallas, Texas to take on the Stars on Saturday night in a game that is meaningless as far as positioning goes. With the Chicago Blackhawks losing in regulation on Thursday, Nashville is now locked into second place in the Central. The Minnesota vs. St. Louis Blues and the Chicago vs. Colorado Avalanche games are of particular interest to the Predators on Saturday night as, depending on how those games shape out, they’ll determine Nashville’s first round opponent.
But, right now, the Predators aren’t concerned about anybody else. They’re concerned with themselves.
“It’s definitely good to have home ice advantage,” Josi said. “It doesn’t help if you play like that though. We have to get our game in order and play better in the playoffs.”
Puck drops in Dallas on Saturday at 7:00pm Central.
MY THREE STARS (as voted on with 4:51 remaining in regulation):
1. Filip Forsberg (NSH)
2. Marco Scandella (MIN)
3. Darcy Kuemper (MIN)
THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
1. Jason Pominville (MIN)
2. Filip Forsberg (NSH)
3. Marco Scandella (MIN)
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover // TheGameNashville.com