The final score never technically mattered, but just about everything else did, as the Nashville Predators returned from a four-month hiatus with a 2-0 victory over the Dallas Stars in both teams' sole exhibition contest in Edmonton.
And did it ever feel good to get a win.
Viktor Arvidsson scored twice while Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne combined for the 26-save shutout of the Stars in a game that had a little bit of everything.
Nashville has prepared for weeks for their pursuit of the Stanley Cup since the NHL announced its Return To Play Plan in late May. Phase 2 turned to Phase 3 and training camp, and finally, the Predators reached the final step of Phase 4 and the return to game action in their hub city. They were given one game to finalize their preparations before the Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin this weekend, and while it wasn't perfect, there was still plenty to like from Nashville's outing.
"I thought today was a really committed effort by our team," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said. "I really liked our mindset. There was commitment on both sides of the puck, and nobody dipped their toe in the water, which was nice. I think it was a pretty solid team effort. We had some positives - and obviously some negatives - in the game, but the No. 1 thing was that - where is our mentality? Where was it going to be? And it was good today."
"It felt like a game against Dallas, I would say," Arvidsson said. [It was] physical, they play hard D and we try to use our speed as much as we can. It's pretty chippy out there, so I think it was a good test for us. It was great to be back and playing against those guys for sure."
Video: NSH@DAL: Arvidsson blasts one-timer for PPG
Nashville converted on their first power-play opportunity of Phase 4 when Arvidsson hammered a shot past Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop for a 1-0 advantage fewer than four minutes into the contest.
That lead carried into the second stanza, and at 8:52 of the period, Filip Forsberg went to work and delivered a backhand feed across the slot to Arvidsson whose shot deflected off a Dallas defender and past Bishop for a 2-0 lead.
Video: NSH@DAL: Arvidsson nets second off fortunate bounce
"The camp has been great for our line," Forsberg said of playing with Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen. "In terms of chemistry, I thought it was there almost since Day One. It's a weird feeling to describe, but it feels like you never really left, which is a great thing. Today, I thought we were building on the camp too. We played a good game, Arvi obviously had two beautiful goals, creating a lot of chances, so I thought it was a good start."
Rinne took over for Saros midway through the game and added 13 saves on 13 shots to go with Saros's 12-for-12 performance. The combined effort was exactly what Hynes was hoping to see from his netminders in their first game action in more than four months.
"Both players played well," Hynes said of the goaltenders. "[Saros] looked his normal self and was very confident. He made some big saves, he was in the right position, then Peks came in and I think his first shot was a half breakaway kind of on a breakdown there and he made it. He made some good saves down the stretch. It's a great problem to have. We've got two goalies we think can help us win, and it was nice to see them both perform well. We'll take a day here to evaluate - obviously we don't play until Sunday - and then we'll make our decision."
Video: NSH@DAL: Rinne makes save on Dowling
An impressive effort from two of Nashville's top offensive players was satisfying as well, and as Forsberg explained, there are plenty on the roster with much to prove.
"We're all disappointed with how we played," Forsberg said of the 2019-20 regular season. "Personally, individually, I think this break has been good for me, a good refresher - taking my mind off hockey, take a step back and look at it a little differently. Coming back here, I was really, really excited… Everybody just got to come back with a little bit of a different mindset - refreshed both body, but for me, I think it was more mentally refreshed. Whatever happened feels like it was a couple of seasons ago now when we last played. We're all starting fresh and it's been fun so far."
The Predators mainly wanted their team identity, effort and execution to shine through in the exhibition game, and on Thursday afternoon, they got all of that and a shutout victory.
Video: Coach Hynes impressed with team's mindset after win
"There were a lot of things to like," Hynes said. "I would say, probably in the third period, I felt we defended a little bit too much, but I liked the way that we did defend. I thought there was a lot of poise. We had layers of defense, guys in strong position; I really liked when we were under pressure in the third period, just the way that the bench was and how we played, and we stayed with it. I think part of it is, 'Let's figure it out, see what happened, see why we had to defend as much in the third period as we did,' but other than that, I think there is a lot of positives to take, but we're certainly going to look at some things."
Next up, the score matters, as much as any can.
Nashville will take on the Coyotes in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. CT; Watch: FOX Sports Tennessee, USA Network; Listen: 102.5 The Game) in a best-of-5 series with a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the line.
Video: Arvidsson nets two to lead Predators past Stars
The Preds were permitted to dress 13 forwards and seven defensemen for Thursday's exhibition, one more at each position than normal, as the NHL allowed teams the extra spots for the single tune-up game.
Nashville scratched Korbinian Holzer, Daniel Carr, Eeli Tolvanen, Yakov Trenin, Alexandre Carrier, Michael McCarron, Troy Grosenick and Connor Ingram against the Stars.
With the lone exhibition outing now complete, the Preds will turn their attention to the Stanley Cup Qualifier round and the Arizona Coyotes. Game 1 of the best-of-5 series comes on Sunday afternoon in Edmonton; puck drop is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT at Rogers Place.
Video: Arvidsson and Forsberg talk chemistry after win