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Preds Blank Avalanche to Begin Road Trip

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators opened a three-game road trip with a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

Preds rookie Filip Forsberg put a puck top shelf on Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard off a breakaway less than three minutes into the first period for the game-winning marker. Gabriel Bourque sent the forward in one-on-one with the netminder with a pass up the wall and through the neutral zone.

The Preds added two empty-net goals, one from Bourque and the other from James Neal, in the final two minutes of regulation to run up the score behind Forsberg’s game-winning marker.

Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne recorded 26 saves for his third shutout and NHL-leading 18th victory on the campaign. The Finn was tested regularly in the contest, especially in the middle frame, notching eight stops and preventing a couple Avalanche odd-man rushes from finding the twine.

“It wasn’t an easy game by any means, but we did a good job of not letting them have much,” Rinne said. “I got a little bit lucky with them hitting the post twice in the second period, but sometimes you just need that. That was big win for us.”

“I don’t think I have any more words to use for him,” Forsberg said of Rinne. “He’s just unbelievable. He kept us in this game, especially in the second period when they took things over. He’s huge for us every game, and I’m so happy to have him on our team.”

The Predators have still not lost two games in a row this season, after bouncing back from a 3-1 loss to Chicago with a three-goal victory on Tuesday.

“[Colorado] went up and down the ice on us quickly a few times, but for the most part I thought our D-gaps were good, and we didn’t turn the puck over too much,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “They’re quick the other way; you’ve got to pay attention. But I thought we did a good job of limiting their chances, I don’t think they had a whole lot tonight.”

Nashville’s win was in the first of five meetings between the clubs, the Preds and Avs will next play each twice over a three-day span beginning January 28.

Flipper Flips:

The Predators leading scorer found himself all alone with the Avalanche netminder and made no mistake at the 2:20 mark of the first frame. Forsberg added his 12th marker of the season after a well-placed feed from Bourque found the Swede’s tape at the Colorado blue line.

With time and space, Forsberg used his patent-pending, quick-flip wrister for the Predators game-winning tally.

“I was trying to get the puck as high as possible, and I was coming in toward the goalie pretty close,” Forsberg said. “I kind of got cut off by the backchecker, so I didn’t have as many options as I would have liked. I was fortunate it went in.”

No. 9 jumped off Nashville’s bench, calling for the puck, before skating across the center of the ice and receiving Bourque’s feed that originated all the way from the Preds defensive zone.

“[Eric] Nystrom changed with Forsberg and he went between the two defensemen and then he was wide open,” Bourque said. “I heard him yell at me right as he got off the bench and then I was able to get a pass through before he made a nice move on the breakaway. He’s pretty hot right now, so it was a great shot from him again.”

“It was such an awesome pass,” Forsberg said. “I came right off the bench from the change and I saw [Seth] Jones with the puck. I wanted it from him, but he sent it to Bourque and then he saw me and fired it up to me. I was lucky I was able to finish it.”

Forsberg’s head coach described his shot as quick and deceptive following the victory. Whatever the case, Forsberg’s high-release point has been consistently fooling goalies in his first-full NHL season, and on Tuesday, Pickard saw his name added to the list.

“His shot seems to come off at different angles and he gets it off quick,” Laviolette said of Forsberg. “He uses people as screens too, and it’s effective, that’s for sure.”

Playing with 11 men:

Players like Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon in the Avalanche top-six forward group have rightfully earned Colorado the reputation as one of the League’s fastest skating clubs.

Several Preds mentioned prior to the game that they knew their defense would be tested by wide rushes and quick breakouts, and losing one of their best defensive centers early didn’t make things any easier. Nashville center Paul Gaustad returned to the Nashville lineup on Tuesday after missing the last two games, but exited prior to the five-minute mark of the first after re-aggravating his lower-body injury.

“He’s the best one on the team at draws, so missing him is always hard,” Bourque said of Gaustad, his usual linemate. “We do have some other guys who can win them too, and they kept us in it. I think we have to work on it for the next game though.”

Nashville won only 39 percent of their attempts on the dot, but recovered overall by forcing the Avs to the outside and ensuring their netminder saw the puck well. Rinne credited the effort after the contest.

“[Colorado] didn’t get too many chances and the ones they did, I was able to see the puck,” Rinne said. “But it’s still a challenge to [shut] them down. They have several players that can change the course of the game easily. They’ve got speedy guys too. We knew we had to keep the puck in their zone as much as we could.”

Preds forward Mike Ribeiro said having several versatile players who can take draws when called upon helped the road team whether the storm, especially during a strong push by the Avalanche in the second period.  

“We’ve got [Mike] Fisher, [Matt] Cullen and [Colin] Wilson who can take draws if we need them too,” Ribeiro said. “We need to work on winning more faceoffs even [without Gaustad] but we won the game, so we’ll take it for now.”

Notching the shutout win and with only 11 forwards, prevented the team’s first two-game losing streak, and stands as another mark of the Predators incredible resiliency this campaign. A trait that has them as one of the NHL’s best squads.

“This shows that the players we have are very talented, that we can lose a guy and still win,” Bourque said. “We don’t like to lose at all. When we have a bad effort then we ready to do whatever it takes to get back to [winning].”

End Game:

With the victory, Nashville pulled to within one point of the Chicago Blackhawks who lead the Central Division and have played one more game than the Preds. Bourque recorded his first assist of the season on Forsberg’s goal before adding his first tally as well with an empty-netter. Neal’s tally ended his nine-game goal drought. 

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