James Neal made sure the Nashville Predators finished their five-game road trip in the win column. Neal recorded a hat trick on Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers as the Preds won their final game at Rexall Place by a 3-2 final.
The victory gave Nashville a 3-1-1 record on the trip and it now has 83 points overall on the season, continuing to solidify their postseason positioning in the Western Conference.
“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.”
Edmonton started the scoring off a defensive zone turnover at 6:48 of the first, as Connor McDavid sent a hard pass to the side of the cage where Jordan Eberle tapped in his 21st of the year. The Oil skated with the lead for 76 seconds until Neal was sprung by Anthony Bitetto on a breakaway and finished off his first of the night through the five hole. Neal’s 24th of the campaign set a personal best with the Predators; the Whitby, Ontario, native scored 23 times during his first year with the club in 2014-15.
After the Oilers had taken a 2-1 lead early in the second, Neal played the role of spoiler for the second time in the evening, coming to a quick stop before rifling a wrister over the shoulder of Laurent Brossoit, just 20 seconds later.
“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.”
As he did in the first two periods, Neal found the back of the net again at 4:18 of the third for his sixth career hat trick and a 3-2 Nashville lead, their first advantage of the evening. That score ultimately held up, as Pekka Rinne stopped 28 shots on the night for his 28th victory of the season.
“We got the job done, and there’s a good feeling in the room,” center Ryan Johansen said. “Going back home now with eight home games and four on the road to finish up this season; it was a big, tough road trip, and we got seven out of ten points and we’ll take it.”
Hats for the Real Deal:
Prior to skating in his final game at Rexall Place, James Neal remarked that the fast ice in Edmonton usually gives an advantage to the shooters. Monday’s three-goal performance versus the Oilers may just indicate the Predators second-leading goal scorer is spot on.
“I hear guys talking about it, especially Neal, he always likes to shoot on this ice,” Rinne said of the fast surface at Rexall Place. “He has a really good shot and a quick release, and I feel this [ice] helps him to get the puck off even faster. Tonight you could see it, those were some prime-time shots.”
Neal was the only Predators player to beat Edmonton goaltender Laurent Brossoit on the night, responding quickly to both of Edmonton’s first two goals and crushing whatever momentum they may have had.
“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,” Johansen said of Neal. “I had fun watching him.”
Neal single-handedly made sure the Preds would head home with their third victory of the trip, and now as the season draws to a close with just 12 games remaining, the focus shifts to Nashville securing their spot in the postseason.
“It’s something we talked about and looked at in our schedule coming off the All-Star break, so we knew what we were in for,” Neal said. “Every game is going to be tough down the stretch… I thought we did a good job to stay on the right side of the puck [tonight] and got some timely goals and managed to get a big win.”
Gif of the Game:
See two looks at the James Neal hat trick goal.
Pekka Rinne on another successful road trip for the Predators:
“It was huge; we’ve been pretty good this year on the road. I don’t know what’s behind it… that’s a good sign for any team and hopefully we can now take care of the business at home.”
The Predators finish with a 18-11-3 all-time record at Rexall Place, their fourth-best record in any NHL building. With the Oilers moving to a new arena (Rogers Place) next season, Monday’s game at Rexall’s was the Preds last skate at the venue.
With James Neal’s hat trick, the Preds have set a franchise record for most hat tricks in a single season with four. Filip Forsberg has two hat tricks on the season; Captain Shea Weber has the other.
Barret Jackman returned to the Predators lineup on Monday night after missing the previous six games as a healthy scratch. Petter Granberg was scratched for the Preds on defense.
The Predators return home to host the New York Islanders on St. Patrick’s Day before heading to the Nation’s Capital on Friday night to face the Washington Capitals.
In one of the easiest selections for Three Stars, James Neal and his hat trick sit at No. 1.
Infographic: Real Deal Hat Trick