Every now and then, hockey produces moments that are truly special.
All the storylines and talk were conducive to such an occasion going into the Nashville Predators debut - and their first game under new Head Coach Peter Laviolette - but they still had to earn a win against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.
Three-straight, third-period markers to overcome a one-goal deficit and the Preds were on their way to starting the Laviolette era just how they intended. And they finished with a 3-2 victory.
“That was a huge come-from-behind win in our own building in the home opener,” Nashville forward Eric Nystrom said. “That was a lot of fun. Our line had a little bit of a tough go earlier on, and it’s good that we stuck with it and made a difference. It was great to get the building to erupt and it’s a great start at home.”
Nashville’s attack featured the four-man deep offensive-zone attack and the large shot numbers that the new bench boss desired out of his club, but the puck wouldn’t cross the goal line until Craig Smith’s slam-dunk marker on the power play in the final frame.
Despite holding a 24-13 shot advantage at the start of the third, the Preds were unable to solve Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson until Smith’s power-play goal 1:36 into the third.
“I think it was important that we believed in the new system even though we hadn’t found a goal yet,” Smith said. “Just being confident and knowing the guy to your left or right is going to go after that puck as hard as he can and win a 50-50 battle for his teammate: That’s what matters.”
“Honestly, I’m happy for the guys, for the city and for the fans,” Laviolette said. “You want to come to your home opener and be successful for everybody’s sake. It’s a special night because it’s in our building and there are a lot new players that were added. You talk to the fans and they’ve been waiting for a long time for this game to happen and wanting it to happen. [...] I’m really happy for our fans and the players.”
Finally finding the twine seemed to quickly give the home team an edge as they rattled off three goals in a nine-minute span.
“We wish we could have capitalized on some of the chances earlier on, but we came in [to the locker room] after the second and realized we had to get just one goal to get back in it,” Nystrom said. “We got that and then another one shortly there after, and that’s how the game works sometimes.”
An early lead and 34 saves from Anderson wasn’t enough for the Senators, who begin their season and a three-game road trip with a loss.
In the first period, Kyle Turris elected to shoot on a two-on-one with Bobby Ryan and beat Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne on rising wrister top shelf.
“The three [goals] we gave up are all very preventable ones,” Senators forward David Legwand said. “We’ve got to work on that and figure it out. We can’t be giving away points in this league; it’s too close. Night in and night out, those things are going to mean a lot come April.”
“I think we ended up being guilty of trying to [claim a win] before we actually had it,” Ottawa Head Coach Paul MacLean said. “We have to do things step-by-step, you have to finish one play before you can go to the next play, and I thought we were just in a little bit of a hurry to get going in the offensive side of it until we had things under control on the defensive side of it. Those are some things that we have to look at tomorrow and get ready for the next game.”
After the Preds jumped to a quick two-goal advantage in the third period, the Sens cut Nashville’s lead to one, but couldn’t find the twine another time. A pad stop off a shot that had originally beaten him and hit iron was one of Pekka Rinne’s important saves in the third to hold on for the win.
“It’s great for Peter to get his first win with this team. He gave us a lot of confidence after we came in from the second period," Nystrom said. "We score an early power play goal in the third period and from then on we kind of had the momentum and got things going in the right direction. It’s great for Lavy and us to get this first win."
Maybe not quite how Laviolette would have written it for the Predators, but still, his club gets its first win. And that’s pretty special in its own right.