The session was optional for the Preds, and understandably so, after a high-tempo game against the Habs that saw Nashville knot things at two in the third period before Filip Forsberg’s power-play tally won it at 1:54 of OT.
Nashville’s victory gave them a two-game winning streak for the first time in a month and improved their record to 4-2-1 in their last seven outings.
“That was a great win for us,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve beaten a top team in the League, and just to give us a good boost of confidence here going down the final stretch and [to get] two points...we’ve just got to keep it going.”
Tuesday’s contest against Montreal wasn’t a cakewalk for the Preds, and Thursday’s get-together in the Sunshine State with the Bolts won’t be either.
While the Preds are 28-7-2 this season on Broadway, that’s only good enough for second in the category. The Lightning have won 30 inside Amalie Arena this season.
“It’s not going to be easy; even though we got a big win last night, you’ve got to turn the page on it pretty quick and forget about it and start focusing on the next opponent,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “We think our home record is good; we’re going into a place where it’s really tough to win, so our guys will have to be sharp and make sure we’re prepared and ready.”
The Preds bested the Lightning, also by a 3-2 OT final, back on Feb. 10 in Nashville, and much like Tuesday’s game, the expectation is that the same finesse and quickness will likely be on display in Tampa Bay.
“I would expect [Thursday’s] game would be a little bit similar to last night,” Laviolette said. “[The Lightning are] a good skating team. They’ve got really good depth…It’ll be a good challenge, but that’s why they sit where they sit in the standings, they’ve got a good lineup, they play a real fast game and it’ll be a good contest.”
After missing Tuesday’s contest against Montreal, forwards Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg both hit the ice for Wednesday’s session. Forward James Neal, who has missed the past five games with an upper-body injury, also joined his teammates on the ice.
Forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Kevin Fiala, who were both recalled from Milwaukee over the past few days, remained with the team and skated on Wednesday.
Head Coach Peter Laviolette said after practice that Neal remains day-to-day.
Neal and fellow forward Eric Nystrom, out with a lower-body injury, are the only two players not expected to make the trip to Tampa Bay.
The Kids Are Alright:
Kevin Fiala called it the best feeling of his entire life.
Just nine months after the Predators selected Fiala 11th overall at the 2014 NHL Draft, the Swiss forward was suiting up in Nashville with the Preds crest on the front of his jersey at 18 years and 245 days of age, the fourth-youngest to do so in franchise history.
Recalled from the Milwaukee Admirals earlier in the day on Tuesday, Fiala hopped on a flight from Wisconsin and made it to Middle Tennessee in time to skate on Nashville’s second line against the Habs.
And he didn’t look out of place.
In fact, he nearly had an assist off of an odd-man opportunity with his linemates of Craig Smith and Mike Fisher on one play, and he almost had a goal on another play if it hadn’t been for the awareness of Carey Price.
Along with Viktor Arvidsson, who was recalled on March 20 and skated in his second NHL contest on Tuesday against Montreal, Fiala slid right into the Nashville lineup and helped his club to a 3-2 victory.
All while appearing as if he’d done it a few times before.
“It’s fun to see,” Ekholm said of Fiala and Arvidsson entering into the lineup. “They just go in there right away and show off what they’ve got. [Fiala was] really close to getting an assist…and I thought he played well. He’s an offensively skilled player and he played great and Arvidsson has been great for us, too.”
The ability for players like Arvidsson and Fiala to make the transition from AHL to NHL is based partially on their skill, but also the similar ways in which Nashville and Milwaukee operate on the ice.
“I think our guys that come up from the minors have done an unbelievable job,” Laviolette said. “Arvidsson comes up, Fiala comes up, we’ve used defensemen up here that have just come in and put in big minutes for us and given us really quality play. I think that speaks to the coaching staff down there. [Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason and Assistant Coach Stan Drulia] do an excellent job.
“We try to be close to on the same page with what we’re doing, and it may not always be exact because their schedule and demands might be different than ours, but the guys who come up here are always very well prepared.”
Not only is there reassurance for the bench boss to know that he’s got quality options if necessary, but the arrival of youngsters to the big club has an effect on everyone in the room.
“Even the guys in the room, they see some young players in there, you get the first-round pick in there [in Fiala], it brings a little life to the locker room,” Laviolette said. “Guys are happy to see them, so they came in and they did a good job for us.”
While the excitement to get to know the new guys is prevalent for the veterans, the feeling is mutual for those that are trying to take it all in. Not only that, but the comfort level is aided by the organizational similarities, no matter the city.
“The players you play with, they help me off the ice and on the ice,” Fiala said. “They talk to me and they help me a lot and make it much easier.”
“It’s really comfortable for the guys who come up here to Nashville that we play like [the Predators do] in Milwaukee,” Arvidsson said. “It’s comfortable to know what you’re going to do on the ice.”
And even though Fiala and Arvidsson may not be NHL regulars just yet, their time is sure to come.
“[Playing in the NHL was] the best feeling in my whole life, actually,” Fiala said. “The NHL was my dream and it came true yesterday, so it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Taylor Beck on what a player feels during his first recall to the NHL:
“You’re obviously nervous for your first game and then you kind of settle down from there, but I know this group of guys and the coaching staff makes it really easy on the players here. We have a great dressing room full of great guys and I think they make it an easy transition. I think the hockey part - the systems - are pretty familiar. I know when I first got called up, there weren’t many changes in systems, but these guys have done a great job fitting in. [We’ve gotten] two big wins the last two games with some younger guys in the lineup and it’s great to see them up here.”
Pekka Rinne on Fiala and Arvidsson already playing for the Preds:
“I always think about myself when I was 18, 19, it’s amazing. I can’t even picture myself playing in the NHL as an 18 year old, I wasn’t even close to playing in a [top Finnish league], so these are special guys and that’s why they’re drafted high. They all have something special in them, but when they can play this game as an 18-year-old, it’s fun to watch and it’s fun to see the talent.”
Filip Forsberg on getting a haircut and breaking a 12-game goal drought:
“I mean I had to, I had to change something I guess. It was time, I could barely get the bucket on with all the hair I had there, so it was good to get it a little clean.”