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Preds Rally to Top NHL's Points Leader in OT

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

A franchise-record 26th sold-out crowd of the season at Bridgestone Arena was treated to quite the contest on Tuesday night. The Nashville Predators rallied in the final period to even the game, and later Filip Forsberg ended the contest in overtime for a 3-2 victory versus the Montreal Canadiens.

Forsberg’s game-winner on the power play came off of Mike Ribeiro's cross-crease pass at 1:54 of OT. The Swede decisively one-timed the puck into the cage to give Nashville a victory over the NHL’s points leader and their first two-game winning streak since Feb 24.

“It’s a huge win for us, especially after being down after the second period and then winning the game,” Nashville blueliner Roman Josi said. “They are a great team, one of the best in the League. They have great defensemen and obviously [Carey] Price is a great goaltender, so it’s tough to get a goal on them.”

The Canadiens held a 2-1 advantage to begin the third frame following two goals from Montreal forwards in a 10-minute span during the second period. Brendan Gallagher knotted the score at one less than three minutes into the middle period, and David Desharnais beat Pekka Rinne at 12:42.

It took a deflected puck for the Preds to tie the game roughly midway through the third, but Ryan Ellis’ seeing-eye shot was happy to do the dirty work.

“I liked the fight, the battle, and the compassion in the third period; they kept with it and these are big points for us tonight,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said.

After that, it was Forsberg’s shot in OT that provided Nashville with the extra point, their 45th victory of the season and their 98th point in the standings. The team will now travel to the Sunshine State on Wednesday in advance of their contest with another Eastern Conference powerhouse, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A Most Improbable Goal:

Was there anyone on the ice more surprised when Mattias Ekholm put the Preds ahead 1-0 in the first period than the blueliner himself? Judging by the fact that the defenseman joked that he blacked out after his highlight-reel goal, the answer would seem to be yes.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Ekholm said. “It was a funky bounce, and it came out to me in the neutral zone. The middle was open, so I was just waiting for our guys to get out of the zone, I got in and the rest is pretty much a black-out moment. I don’t even know what happened.

“I flipped it up, I went down on my knees and somehow it ended up in the net.”

The shock at Ekholm’s score wasn’t simply because he’d put the puck past Carey Price - the defenseman has a career-high six goals on the season - but rather the nature of how the 24-year-old put the biscuit into the net.

After picking up the puck near center ice, Ekholm drove the play into the Montreal zone, split between Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov, fell to his knees and then somehow recovered possession of the puck and flipped it past Price.

“That was amazing; that was a great goal,” Josi said. “First he kind of chipped it to himself and then he fell [and scored]. That was sick, but we shouldn’t tell him too much, his head is probably a little too high right now.”

Fellow Swede Filip Forsberg said he knew Ekholm had that kind of goal in him.

“I don’t know that it was surprising, he’s got some sneaky skill,” Forsberg said, chuckling. “It was a tremendous goal. To chip it to himself and put it in on his knees, it was awesome.”

The tally was not just meaningful in its make-up, but in its nature as well. The goal was Nashville’s first time scoring in the first period since March 5 and broke a two-plus game shutout streak for the Habs’ Price.

“It’s huge to get the first goal, especially against a team like that,” Josi said. “The last [several] games we didn’t get the first one, so it’s huge for us to score it and play with the lead. It just makes the game a little easier when we have the lead right away.”

First for Fiala:

Predators rookie forward Kevin Fiala didn’t have long to dwell on the magnitude of his impending first game in the NHL. The 18-year-old heard the news on the same morning of the Canadiens and Predators contest, a game that was set to take place over 550 miles south of his current location.

“I had a normal day in Milwaukee and then, after practice there, coach told me that I had gotten a call up,” Fiala said. I [couldn’t believe it], it was crazy. I went home and took a shower and then got on a flight, and I came here a half hour before the game. It was pretty crazy.”

Fiala only joined the Milwaukee Admirals two months earlier after leaving HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League. The Preds 2014 first-round selection had 17 points in 26 games with the Ads prior to his call-up.

“He’s been traveling all day, but I thought he looked really good,” Forsberg said of Fiala. “He was working hard out there and trying to keep it simple. He had a lot of good scoring chances and a couple nice plays. I thought he played really well.”

On Tuesday in Nashville, the St. Gallen, Switzerland, native was a noticeable offensive presence for the Preds playing alongside Mike Fisher and Craig Smith. After the 3-2 OT win, Laviolette said the rookie was able to make a clear difference when he took his shifts.

“Things happen when he is on the ice,” the Preds head coach said of Fiala. “He is a player that gets the puck on his stick. You saw some of the things he did off the rush and in the offensive zone play. The puck sticks to him a little bit and it’s a good thing when you are an offensive player who is able to get to middle-ice a couple of times.

“For coming and jumping into your first game and playing a top team in the League, I thought he had a really good debut.”

Fiala finished with three shots on goal in 11:25 of time on ice (TOI).

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Fiala said of his first game in the League. “To play in the NHL was always my dream, so this is special.”

End Game:

With Tuesday’s victory, the Preds improved to 45-21-8 on the season, good for 98 points. St. Louis defeated Pittsburgh earlier on Tuesday evening, giving them 99 points to keep their hold on the top spot in the Central Division.

Defenseman Ryan Ellis tallied his seventh goal of the season, a new career high for the Preds blueliner. On the same goal, forward Colin Wilson recorded his 100th career assist. With two assists on the night, forward Mike Ribeiro is now just three helpers away from 500 for his career.

Filip Forsberg’s game-winning tally was his sixth GWG of the season and his second in overtime. Two of Nashville’s last four victories have come in OT and the Preds have won consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 22 and 24.

Billed as a potential goaltending duel coming in, Pekka Rinne and Carey Price did not disappoint. Rinne stopped 27 shots on the evening, while Price turned aside 28, good enough to earn them the game’s second and third stars, respectively.

Nashville finishes the season series with Montreal 1-0-1, with both games decided on the power play in overtime.

The Preds head on the road for two contests, Thursday in Tampa Bay and Saturday in Washington, before returning home on Sunday for a late-afternoon outing with the Calgary Flames. Nashville’s next four opponents all currently hold playoff spots.

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