In a game they desperately wanted, the Nashville Predators fell behind by three goals in the first period and were unable to claw back in a 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night at Rogers Arena.
The loss came in the finale of the Predators' four-game road trip, a stint away from Nashville that began with such promise. The club won the first two stops in Winnipeg and Calgary, but then fell in Edmonton and Vancouver, with the final outing leaving the Preds wondering what could have been.
"The first period, Vancouver was the better team, and I just think we didn't play the way we need to play," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said. "The second period, we played really well, and I thought we had an opportunity to either tie the game or get the lead in the game, but [Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom] was very good… and in the third period we just didn't have enough."
"We definitely could've played better [in the first period], but I didn't think it should've been a 3-0 game," Preds Captain Roman Josi said. "Overall, I didn't think it was a 6-2 game. I thought it was way closer than that, but we have to find a way to score goals."
The Canucks took control of the contest from the start by netting three in the opening 20 minutes. Vancouver made it 4-0 early in the second period and ended the night of Pekka Rinne, who was making his first start of the trip.
"There were a couple of breakdowns. We gave up some good chances, and then [Rinne] had some unlucky plays and they went in the net, and I told [Rinne] when he came out, I didn't pull him because of [his play], we had to play better in front of him," Hynes said. "These are big games, but to not have a lot of emotion in the first period and playing the game with the hardness you need to play with this time of year is something that we have to figure out why. Why did we come out in the first period that way?"
Video: NSH@VAN: Smith cleans up rebound for power-play goal
After the goaltender switch, Nashville put forth their best showing of the game, by tallying twice in 66 seconds.
First, Craig Smith tallied on the power play at 5:59 of the period, and Mikael Granlund potted his third in four games to bring the Predators back to within two. The deficit nearly dropped from there, as Nashville put 19 shots on the Canucks' net in the period, but they couldn't find the all important next goal.
Video: NSH@VAN: Granlund puts home the rebound
"You have to give [Markstrom] credit, he was really good in net," Josi said. "He made some huge saves, but I thought we created a lot to definitely get more goals than two."
Vancouver changed the tune for the third period by going back up by three late in the second with J.T. Miller's 22nd of the season. Jake Virtanen concluded the scoring at 6-2 early in the final period to see the Predators drop their second straight to finish the trip.
Nashville will play eight of their next 10 games at home. Perhaps most importantly, they have six games before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24, and the next test comes Thursday night against the Islanders, a game the Predators will want to complete with a bounce-back effort.
But for now, the Preds will look back at Monday's loss as another they let escape their grasp.
"After they scored that third goal, we kind of stopped playing the right way," Josi said. "The message has to be like, 'Even if you're down 3-0, you have to stick to the game plan.' You have to play the game the right way. You can't play to the score, and I think we saw in the second, when we played the right way we created a lot of chances and could've gotten a couple more goals."
Video: NSH Recap: Smith, Granlund score in defeat
Calle Jarnkrok returned to the Nashville lineup on Monday night after missing the previous five games due to illness. Austin Watson was also back for the Preds after being scratched for the first three contests of the trip.
Yakov Trenin, Colin Blackwell and Matt Irwin were scratched for the Predators against the Canucks.
With their four-game trip through Western Canada now complete, the Preds will head back to Nashville on Tuesday ahead of a Thursday-night tilt with the New York Islanders at Bridgestone Arena (at 7 p.m. CT; buy tickets).