Closing out a five-game road trip on "Pi Day," the Nashville Predators responded to seeing their franchise-record point streak of 15 games snapped two nights before by claiming a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. The contest was the Preds final trip to one of the NHL’s most storied buildings, Rexall Place, the host to seven Stanley Cup Finals.
Despite some fluky matchups at Rexall over the years, winger James Neal ensured his club’s ultimate trip to Edmonton was a memorable one. The forward represented all of the Predators offense, tallying three goals and his sixth career hat trick.
“At the end of a road trip when you’ve been on the road this long, you just want to get home, but you know you have to finish it off the right way,” Neal said. “We knew what to expect, what we were in for all night; be responsible and we managed to pull out a big win because points are so crucial at this point in the season. You have to play good hockey going into the playoffs.”
Check back next weekend for Game No. 9 in our countdown!
All three of Neal’s goals on the evening were examples of perfectly placed shots, but his first tally, while on a breakaway, might be the most impressive. Preds d-man Anthony Bitetto sent a pass across the entire neutral zone to the tape of Neal’s stick just inside the Oilers’ blue line to spring the winger in alone on Laurent Brossoit. Neal faked and went to the backhand where he tucked the puck in through the five hole of Brossoit to even the contest at one.
“Any time a team scores and the other team comes right back and gets one, it deflates you a little bit,” Neal said. “That felt good to get that one.”
Neal tied the contest twice before giving the Predators a 3-2 lead in the third. The Whitby, Ontario, native’s tying goals came 76 and 20 seconds after the Oilers claimed one-goal leads.
A Final Skate at Rexall Place:
To view a photo gallery of Predators games at Rexall place over the years, click here, or on the photo above.
Prior to a 3-2 triumph in their final game at the Oilers’ storied rink, several Predators players discussed personal experiences and memories of watching their childhood heroes play at Rexall Place.
Step within the walls of Rexall Place and pause. Listen closely enough, and you can still hear the cheers as a young Wayne Gretzky skates around with two outstretched arms holding the Stanley Cup aloft. At least that’s what people say.
There’s no denying the history that’s been made within the walls of the 42-year-old arena in Edmonton. The host to seven Stanley Cup Finals, thousands of games and once home to the game’s greatest player, it’s worth a moment to consider your surroundings once within Rexall. Especially when it’s your last time there.
With the Edmonton Oilers headed to Rogers Place for the 2016-17 campaign, tonight’s contest marks the Nashville Predators last time skating at the Oil’s old home, something they reflected on after Monday’s morning skate.
“It’s one of the legendary buildings, and a lot of cool hockey games have been played in this building,” Preds netminder Pekka Rinne said. “Probably the first time I played here, seeing all the names in the rafters, retired numbers and Stanley Cups, I think that’s pretty cool the first time you see it.”
A key member of one of Rexall’s seven Cup Finals, Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette recalls a stinging loss for the Carolina Hurricanes during their eventual run to winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.
“I’d probably go back to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final with Carolina,” Laviolette said. “I don’t know if it was a good memory, we got hammered in Game Six. It was devastating how bad we got beat in that game. I think it was two minutes to go in the second period and the shots were something like 28 to 7. It was just a real tough game for us. It was a good job by our team to bounce back [in Game Seven] at that time. Unfortunately it’s not a good memory, it’s just a memory.”
Like Laviolette’s recollection, maybe all the Preds’ Rexall moments aren’t Hollywood worthy.
“I remember at the beginning of one game the oil rig (that the Oilers skate beneath when they enter the ice), it got stuck halfway in midair, and we all thought it was going to come down on us,” winger Colin Wilson said laughing. “That’s my favorite.”
Still, James Neal and Mike Fisher say - even though they were quite young at the time - growing up Gretzky fans, now that they have the chance to skate at the same rink where the Great One once laced them up, it’s an opportunity to be cherished. Nashville d-man Anthony Bitetto is looking forward to checking off his first skate at Rexall just in time.
“It’s kind of weird because it’s your first and last game in this building, it’s going to be a fun night,” Bitetto said. “It’s special, it is one of the rinks you put on your checklist as a kid. Especially for me, one of my favorite players growing up was Mark Messier with him playing here, so for me to be on the same ice as him, is very cool. He was a big guy for New York when I was a kid. I think it’s a special moment.”
Gif of the Game:
Two looks at Neal’s third goal of the contest.
“Usually you see two and an empty netter and a couple garbage goals or whatever you want to call it, but I had a great view tonight being his centerman,” Ryan Johansen said of Neal. “I had fun watching him.”