The Predators didn't just win Thursday's game against the Dallas Stars to help themselves out in a hotly contested Western Conference playoff race. They did it for their city, too.
Juuse Saros blanked the Stars with 33 saves and Filip Forsberg netted the winner, as the Preds topped Dallas, 2-0, at Bridgestone Arena. The result snaps a three-game skid for Nashville and gives them 74 points in the standings. That total - at least for the moment - vaults them into a tie for the first Wild Card in the Western Conference.
"Our game tonight was a lot better," Preds forward Matt Duchene said. "It just looked more like what we should look like as a hockey team. We had way more good looks and good rushes. We looked dangerous, and we haven't looked like that very much this season. We just have to keep doing those things. Our penalty kill was great, and our power play got the job done tonight."
The victory also provides a boost to a city and region that was ravaged by a tornado earlier in the week. While the relief efforts will continue in the months ahead, Thursday night in Smashville provided an escape for those who needed it, and the Preds were more than happy to give the home crowd something to cheer about.
"You give a lot of credit to the players," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said postgame while sporting his Nashville Strong T-shirt. "I know that those guys have a lot of pride in playing for the Nashville Predators. They all enjoy really living in the city and being part of the community, and the fact that the focus level that we played with tonight, the intensity level, the effort level was there, it speaks volumes about the guys and the pride that they take in wearing the jersey but also being part of the community.
"Hopefully, people are proud of it, and some people that are having some tough times that have been affected by the tornado, hopefully this was something that can take people away for a couple hours and give the city something to be proud of."
Video: DAL@NSH: Forsberg banks puck in for a power-play goal
The Predators took a 1-0 lead in the first period when Forsberg - for the first time since Jan. 30 - found the back of the net. The power-play goal was Forsberg's 19th of the season, and his smile immediately following said it all.
"Not the best shot in the history of hockey, but there's been chances, and it was nice to see it go," Forsberg said.
No. 9's goal was the 164th of his career - all with Nashville - a number that now gives him sole possession of third place on the franchise's all-time goals list.
Another tally on the man advantage came in the second stanza, this time in the form of a redirection off of Duchene's stick and past Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin for a 2-0 Nashville lead through 40 minutes.
Video: DAL@NSH: Duchene deflects Jarnkrok's shot for PPG
Duchene said following the win he felt the 60-minute effort from the Predators may have exhibited the club's best poise and puck movement of the season.
"We had a lot more poise than the other night [in Minnesota]," Duchene said. "We worked really hard the other night, but you can't just work hard. You've got to make plays and have poise and confidence. I think we learned from that."
Still, the game has a different tenor without the continued excellence of Saros, who earned his 10th career shutout. The 24-year-old Finn has won six out of his last nine starts and has been a catalyst for the Predators' climb up the standings over the past two months.
"It was a big win," Saros said. "We weren't satisfied with our last two games. It was a big difference tonight. Good win."
The shutout triumph was the ideal start for Nashville to begin a crucial home-and-home set with the Stars, and as the playoff race continues to be tighter than ever, the Preds need all the points they can get.
When it comes to the hockey side of things, that's what mattered most tonight. But still, there was something more to play for on this occasion, and the Predators proved - just like the rest of their city - they're Nashville Strong.
"[There's] maybe a little foreshadowing," Duchene said. "We've been grinding hard this year, and our slogan is 'Embrace the Grind.' Now, the city is kind of going through something like that, where people are grinding and trying to get through. It's inspiring to us, just the strength that the city is showing. I mentioned this morning that the people showing up and donating so much of their time and money and buying stuff for the city and the people who are ailing right now - this was really nice to get a win for them tonight."
Video: Saros, Predators shut out Stars, 2-0
Defenseman Korbinian Holzer made his Predators debut on Thursday night, registering three shots, two hits and a blocked shot in 10:56 of time on ice.
Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis missed Thursday's game and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Yannick Weber, Colin Blackwell and Austin Watson were also scratched for Nashville against the Stars.
The Predators will conclude their home-and-home set with the Stars on Saturday afternoon (at 1 p.m. CT; watch on FS-TN; listen on 102.5 The Game) in Dallas. The matinee contest begins a five-game road trip for Nashville that will see them also make stops in Montreal, Toronto, Columbus and Minnesota over the next week.