In front of 15,726 at Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators beat the Vancouver Canucks to win their fourth game in a row but it came with a price.
That price, however, is yet to be determined.
At the beginning of the third period, Vancouver forward Chris Higgins was on a partial breakaway when he ran into Rinne, driving him into the boards. The first time All-Star was slow to get up and the Bridgestone crowd began a loud chant of “Pekka! Pekka!” as he got to his feet. He eventually skated to the bench and then headed down the tunnel with Head Athletic Trainer Andy Hosler.
He is considered day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Nashville wasted no time getting this game going. Craig Smith struck first as he used an early power play to open the scoring. A too many men penalty proved to be costly for Vancouver as, a little over four minutes into the tilt, Smith took a gorgeous behind-the-net pass from Colin Wilson and deposited it into the net to make it 1-0.
“Whenever we get the first score of the game, it’s huge,” Seth Jones said.
Just moments later, Wilson used Mike Fisher as a decoy and tucked a laser right under the crossbar to make it 2-0.
To further Nashville’s dominance in the opening 20 minutes, Roman Josi beat Lack late in the frame but hit the post and Rinne turned aside all nine shots he faced.
“I thought we came out and played really well,” Jones said. “We got a power play goal there and I think we sustained most of our pressure in the first period.”
The Canucks came out rearing to go in the second, however. After a mad scramble in the Nashville zone in which Rinne was sprawling every which way, Alex Edler wound up from just inside the blueline and scored his fifth of the season.
“They kept playing hard and we went to sleep for a little bit in the first five minutes,” Laviolette said. “That was probably the only stretch of the game that I didn’t really like.”
“[Coming into the] second period we were maybe thinking it was going to be an easy game,” Olli Jokinen admitted. “They came back but we finished strong that period.”
Nashville led 2-1 headed into the final stanza but things took an odd turn when Rinne went down just three minutes in. As a result, Carter Hutton entered the game for his first home appearance of the year.
“That is a critical point in the game,” Laviolette said. “When you lose your goaltender and the guy on the bench has been sitting there for two and half periods.”
Once Hutton entered the crease, the Canucks swarmed.
“When Pekka left the game, the best player on the ice for about five minutes was Carter Hutton,” Laviolette said. “It was nice to see him come off the bench and get into the game. They fired four or five good shots on the net and he made big saves.”
“You don’t think about it, you just do it,” Hutton said about coming in cold. “We’re pretty programmed. We practice hard and I always prepare like I’m going to play. It almost helps to get some more shots right away so you can find your flow.”
And find the flow he did. Hutton was able to weather the storm, picking up 10 saves. But not only did the Preds deny the Canucks, they got a goal of their own when Filip Forsberg broke down the wing and took a shot that trickled past Lack to retake the two goal lead.
“That third goal was big,” Jokinen said. “It was huge. Our third period was strong. We played well and we didn’t give up many chances and we found a way to score goals.”
Fisher and Wilson would add goals in the final five minutes to round out the scoring.
With the victory, the Preds keep their tops-in-the-league status improving to 29-9-4 with 62 points.
The next contest for the Predators is going to be a special one. The only head coach the franchise had ever known prior to this season will make his return. Barry Trotz and the Washington Capitals will make their only trip to Music City on Friday and it promises to be a night to remember.
“It’s going to be emotional for a lot of people,” Rinne told 102.5 The Game on Monday afternoon. “I wish Barry nothing but the best, except for Friday.”
“I’m excited to get back home and see some of my friends,” Trotz said on Tuesday’s conference call. “I hope my legacy in Nashville won’t be about wins or losses but that I instilled hockey in a non-traditional market.”
And, for that, we are all thankful.
Puck drops at 7:00pm Central.
MY THREE STARS (as voted on with 5:16 remaining in regulation):
1. Craig Smith (NSH)
2. Colin Wilson (NSH)
3. Pekka Rinne (NSH)
THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
1. Colin Wilson (NSH)
2. Craig Smith (NSH)
3. Mike Fisher (NSH)
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover // TheGameNashville.com