Craig Smith evened the score in the third period, but the Florida Panthers got the lead back and hung on for a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators at BB&T Center on Friday night. The result sees Nashville's four-game road win streak come to an end, giving them a one-goal loss as they conclude their back-to-back set in Florida.
Juuse Saros received the start in net and made 32 saves on the night. The outing was just the second time in seven games this season he's given up more than one goal.
"For whatever reason, we didn't generate enough chances and made it easy on them," Preds Captain Mike Fisher said. "We came out in the third with a little more urgency and played pretty good, had some chances and felt like we were taking over the game, but the first two periods, we weren't skating, we weren't good enough."
"They were a little bit quicker than us to start the game," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought the speed picked up as the game went on, but they seemed to have the jump on us early on."
Video: NSH@FLA: Smith levels score off Ribeiro's nice pass
After Greg McKegg scored early for the Panthers, Saros and the Preds held their opponents off the scoresheet until Craig Smith found twine at 5:03 of the third, his seventh of the season and first since Nov. 23. But five minutes later, Jonathan Marchessault got a shot to squeak past Saros and the Predators were unable to beat James Reimer on a late push, ultimately falling on the road for the first time in their last five tries.
"Juuse was really good, and the travel, the back-to-back might have gotten to us, because it just seemed like we had no legs [in the first two periods]," forward Ryan Johansen said. "In the third, I was impressed with the guys - we really threw it all out there, just couldn't tie it up."
After two games in the last 48 hours, the Preds will get a chance to rest on Saturday before getting together with the Blackhawks on Sunday evening at United Center.
"Always a good test," Johansen said of facing Chicago. "Always a fun building to play in. We'll get some rest and focus on another big divisional game on Sunday."
During Friday's game, a one-year contract was announced for defenseman Matt Irwin that covers the 2017-18 season. After starting the season in the AHL, Irwin worked his way back to the club and has been up ever since, with the new deal reflecting his superior play for the Predators.
"I've been around long enough that you know your opportunity will come at some point, and it's just one of those things where it's what you do with it," Irwin said. "I know I can play in the League and to just come to work every day, work hard and I couldn't be more happy and thankful for the opportunity they have given me… The Preds gave me an opportunity to come back and contribute, and I couldn't be happier to be here."
James Neal and Viktor Arvidsson did not play in Friday's game with upper-body injuries and remain day-to-day.
Twenty-year-old and 2014 second-round pick Vladislav Kamenev skated in his first NHL game on Friday night, registering one shot and one hit in 10:21 of ice time.
The Predators next game will be the finale of their three-game road trip, a Sunday evening (6 p.m. CT) contest in Chicago, before returning home to host Vancouver on Tuesday.