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Forsberg, Predators edge Panthers in shootout

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- In a battle of Calder Trophy hopefuls, Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg and Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad had their moments Sunday.

In the end, Forsberg strengthened his case while helping the Predators get a second victory during a weekend back-to-back set.

Forsberg tied the game with 4:43 left in regulation, then scored the game-winner in the bottom half of the fourth round of the shootout and the Predators defeated the Panthers 3-2 at BB&T???Center.

"Filip was terrific,"???Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's been that way all year. He's put up a lot of points and played a lot of big minutes and put in big situations like he was tonight and he delivered. Ekblad has had a terrific year, a terrific start to his young career as well. We don't get to see him as much, but certainly when you see him, his size and his presence, the way he can move the puck out there, it's impressive."

Forsberg, who leads NHL???rookies with 48 points, scored his team-high 18th goal to help Nashville rally from a 2-0 third-period deficit.

Ekblad, who came in leading all rookie defensemen with 27 points, had a goal to give Florida a 2-0 lead in the second period.

"It may be a point that got away,"???said Ekblad, the No. 1 pick at the 2014 NHL Draft. "We definitely had a lot of opportunities. Things just happen that way sometimes. You're not going to get all the bounces in every game. I think we showed a pretty great effort as a team."

Matt Cullen and Craig Smith scored earlier in the shootout for Nashville, but were matched by Brad Boyes and Nick Bjugstad.

Forsberg scored the winner with a backhand-to-forehand deke when the puck went in off Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo's left pad.

The finish was a replay of the Dec. 22 game between the teams at Bridgestone Arena when Forsberg scored in the fourth round of the shootout to help Nashville beat Florida 3-2.

"My timing was off in the shootout,"???Luongo said. "I was committing too early on moves. It wasn't a very good performance there. [The shooters] really didn't show me anything. I just wasn't patient enough in the shootout."

Nashville is 5-4 in shootouts this season; Florida is 5-7.

Seth Jones had the other goal for Nashville, which scored twice on four shots in the third period.

Carter Hutton made 34 saves before the shootout and then denied Dave Bolland in the top half of the fourth round of the breakaway competition.

"He's a good goalie and he played really hard,"???Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "He's not (Nashville starter)???Pekka Rinne, but he's a good solid backup and played a good game today."

The Predators had the best scoring chance in overtime when Luongo stopped defenseman Roman Josi on a 2-on-1 in the first minute.

Nashville (35-12-6)???began the day one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Western Conference. The Predators extended their lead in the Central Division to four points over the St. Louis Blues, who lost 4-2 against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.

Nashville, which beat the New York Rangers 3-2 at home Saturday, was playing away from Bridgestone Arena for the only time during an eight-game stretch.

"We were just trying to battle,"?????????Forsberg said. "We played last night, so obviously our legs weren't as good as we maybe wanted in the first. But we basically just stuck with it and obviously the power play came up huge in the third for us."

Tomas Fleischmann had the first goal for the Panthers, who had a two-game winning streak ended.

Luongo made 23 saves. He came into the game with a 4-1-1 record and a 1.82 goals-against average in his previous six starts against the Predators.

Panthers forward Brandon Pirri's four-game goal streak ended. He missed the chance to become the first Florida player with a goal in five consecutive games since 2008 when it was accomplished by Olli Jokinen, who now plays for Nashville.

Florida (23-17-11) began the day in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings, seven points behind the eighth-place Boston Bruins with two games in hand.

"Right now, I'm really frustrated about it,"?????????Fleischmann said. "It's huge. We really needed those two points to get closer to a playoff spot and we've got to get every point. Tonight, we let that slip away and that's not good."

The Panthers wrap up their three-game homestand, which began with a 3-2 victory against the Los Angeles Kings last Thursday, with a game against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.

Nashville played without forward Colin Wilson, who sustained an upper-body injury on Saturday; the Panthers were without captain Willie Mitchell (upper body)?????????for a second consecutive game.

Florida led 2-0 after two period before Nashville tied the game with two power-play goals.

Jones cut Florida's lead in half at 4:44 with a slap shot from the point.

Florida almost regained its two-goal lead during a power play midway through the third period, but Hutton stopped three close-range shots in succession.

Forsberg then tied it at 15:37 after he stopped a backhanded clearing attempt by Bolland and beat Luongo off the far post with a wrist shot from the right circle.

"He's just that player that can turn nothing into a goal in a hurry,"?????????Cullen said. "He's just such a unique talent with his size and his ability to make plays with his stick and his shot is unbelievable. He's just come up big for us all year. He's scored huge goals. He's always in the right place at the right time. He's just one of those guys that no matter what's happened or [whether]?????????things seem to be going really bad, he somehow finds a way to make a big play."

Fleischmann opened the scoring at 8:37 of the second after taking advantage of a turnover just inside the Nashville blue line.

After Fleischmann blocked Victor Bartley's clearing attempt, he skated to the loose puck and beat Hutton with a wrist shot high to the glove side. Fleischmann has points in three consecutive games since being a healthy scratch three times in four games.

Ekblad made it 2-0 at 14:27 on a delayed penalty. After Ekblad was tripped by Jones on a rush, the puck ended up behind the Nashville net. Jimmy Hayes lost control of the puck while attempting a quick stuff from the side of the net, but Ekblad put the rebound past Hutton.

"We didn't like our effort through the first two periods,"???????????????????????????Hutton said. "We tried to get it going here. It's tough the back-to-back games. Our mentality was if we worked hard in their zone, we were going to generate some power plays. And we ended up getting a couple of power plays, and it came through big time for us tonight."

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