The Nashville Predators got off to a solid start in 2014-15, and after their 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 23, highlighted by a natural hat trick from forward James Neal, the Preds remained atop the NHL standings as the only club yet to fall in regulation in the young campaign.
A 5-0-2 record out of the gate with a new head coach in Peter Laviolette, a cast of new players, including Neal, and a renewed sense of confidence helped to solidify Nashville’s early success, leading toward one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history.
Neal’s hat trick, the fifth of his career, was the first Predators hat trick at Bridgestone Arena since New Year’s Day of 2012.
“It’s nice to see a sniper like that work; he has one of the best shots in the League, clearly,” Preds netminder Pekka Rinne said after the victory. “He used his shot tonight. Beautiful goals, all of them. It was huge game by him individually.”
Sure, Neal’s first and second tallies of the night, the first coming off a quick flick of the wrist, and the second, courtesy of a slap shot which went bar down, were certainly more aesthetically pleasing than his third and final marker, a tap-in on the left side of the crease, but the significance of the tally earns it the Golden Goal nod.
Rookie sensation Filip Forsberg kept the play alive, corralling the puck out of the air and back down to his stick, before dishing to defenseman Ryan Ellis at the blue line. Ellis fired a shot on netminder Antti Raanta, with the puck caroming to an anticipating Neal. Unfortunately, the trip Neal received immediately following his goal from Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook didn’t make the celebration quite as epic as Bobby Orr’s Cup-clincher in 1970, but the hats littering the playing surface soon after more than made up for it.
Welcome to Smashville:
The former Pittsburgh Penguins winger certainly knew how to make a good impression. A hat trick against a Central Division rival? That’s worth watching again.
Gif of the Game:
Neal’s positioning on Seabrook allows the forward to quickly deposit the rebound into the Hawks cage for a natural hat trick and the eventual game-winning score.
Head Coach Peter Laviolette, who saw plenty of Neal when the forward was skating in Pittsburgh and Laviolette was behind the bench in Philadelphia, was more than aware of what No. 18 is capable of with the puck. Those skills were on display in Nashville’s fifth win of the season.
“Those were big goals at the right time too,” Laviolette said. “We thought we played a heck of a first period and [Neal] kept us from going into the dressing room down 1-0. That was a big goal to get us going and the other ones were timely too. Every time the puck leaves his stick, it has a chance of going in. Tonight was just one of those nights for him.”