The Nashville Predators recovered from a rough start to tie the game at 4-4 in the third period, but a controversial series of events delivered a late, third power-play goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins and a 6-4 win.
The final game of 2019 is a difficult one to accept. On the one hand, the Predators allowed three goals in the opening 10 minutes of the game. But they also scored three unanswered to even the score as they dominated the play for the majority of the third.
Mikael Granlund scored twice, including the game-tying tally and his 100th career goal in the final period, but the Penguins won it late. A goaltender interference call on Austin Watson led to a Pittsburgh power play, and Jake Guentzel jammed the puck in for the game-winner.
"Terrible start by us," Preds Captain Roman Josi said. "In the first [period], we didn't show up… I thought we played a lot better in the second and third period, and that's how we have to play for for 60 minutes or you're not going to win."
"Not a good start," Granlund said. "In the second period, we started playing the way we can play… We found a way to get back to the game, but that's obviously a tough ending there."
The second half of the back-to-back games couldn't have started much worse for the Preds, as they gave up two goals in the first 1:05 of the game. Pittsburgh made it 3-0 when they scored on a power play midway through the opening frame, and for the second straight night, the Preds made a goalie change with Pekka Rinne coming in for Juuse Saros.
"That's on us - we weren't very good in front of them," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of his goaltenders. "It's not the position that you want to be in, but that's the position that we're in. We needed to play better to start the game."
In the second, and with the Penguins leading 3-0, Viktor Arvidsson converted on the man advantage to give the Preds some life, and after the Penguins went up by three once more, Craig Smith cut the deficit to two again.
Video: NSH@PIT: Arvidsson chips rebound past Murray for PPG
Then, with less than a minute to play in the middle frame, Granlund found a loose puck in the slot and put it past Matt Murray to bring his club to within one after 40 minutes.
Video: NSH@PIT: Granlund nets second tally of the night
In the final frame, Granlund found a loose puck again and barely got it to cross the line to push to tie the game at 4-4. But, with less than two minutes to play, Watson was called for goaltender interference, and Guentzel scored on the ensuing power play.
The Penguins added an empty-netter before the night was done to leave the Predators frustrated once more.
"It's always disappointing," Josi said. "This team has a lot of character, and everybody wants to win, but we need to figure it out, and I think everybody in here is tired of answering the same questions.
"There's just a lot of things we need to do to better. We can play a lot better in front of our goaltenders, and we've been hanging our goaltenders out to dry the last two nights. That just can't happen, so we've got to make sure we correct all that."
Video: NSH Recap: Granlund hits milestone in 6-4 road loss
Preds Captain Roman Josi tallied three assists to extend his career-high point streak to seven games.
Prior to Saturday's game, the Predators placed forward Colton Sissons on Injured Reserve with a lower-body injury. Defenseman Dan Hamhuis also missed Saturday's game with an upper-body injury.
The Predators recalled forward Yakov Trenin from Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon. Trenin did not dress against the Penguins.
Defenseman Jarred Tinordi played his first game as a member of the Predators.
Saturday marked the final game for the Predators in the 2019 calendar year. Next, it's on to Dallas and the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day at the Cotton Bowl.