The Nashville Predators prospects had a push, but weren't able to recover from a tough start on Saturday night, as they fell 6-3 to the Florida Panthers rookies at the Panthers Ice Den in Nashville's first contest of the three-game tournament.
The Preds were down 3-0, but chipped away, scoring once in the second and twice in the third, leaving the club with plenty to build on with another game less than 24 hours away.
"We got a little better in the second, but we were really good in the third," Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said. "We have a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that haven't played yet in this type of atmosphere, so we'll be better tomorrow, for sure."
Despite giving up five goals, goaltender Juuse Saros had Nashville's strongest showing, displaying his athletic ability throughout the night on his way to stopping 39 pucks. Saros made a number of point-blank saves in the contest, and his glove hand was stellar, giving his team a chance to mount a comeback.
"Juuse was our best player, no question," Evason said. "The athleticism and the compete [level]; he just battles, he just battles… We shouldn't have even been in that hockey game after two periods, and we were, so that's what Juuse does."
Florida took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, thanks to Denis Malgin, who snapped a shot over the shoulder of Saros. Malgin made it 2-0 less than a minute into the second period and Juho Lammikko got Florida's third of the night before the Preds struck on the power play.
Tylor Spink took a feed from Justin Kirkland at the top of the crease and made a nifty move to the backhand before roofing a shot to get Nashville on the board. Anthony Richard picked up the secondary helper on Spink's tally, leading to a 3-1 Florida lead after two.
Florida made it 4-1 in the third before Shane Walsh snapped home a shot from the slot with just under 10 minutes to play to cut the deficit to two once more.
The clubs traded goals again, and Kevin Fiala sniped a shot from the left circle that found the back of the net in a period where Nashville found ways to get pucks to the cage against Florida's defensemen.
"We tried to do a little bit too much, tried to over pass in the first couple periods," Evason said. "We were going into their defense as opposed to around them…so we simplified our game in the third and the group made a couple adjustments as far as getting puck behind and simplifying the game and we were better."
It's a quick turnaround for the Preds rookies with a 1:30 p.m. CT start on Sunday afternoon against Tampa Bay. After the rust was shaken off, the group found their legs, and they expect to do the same against the Lightning.
"I thought we progressed as we went on, we simplified our game a little bit, we picked up our pace, and I thought our third period was good," Kirkland said." We're not going to dwell on it, we're just going to take that third period, carry it into tomorrow and we're going to start that way instead."