The Nashville Predators saw all the exasperation of their six-game losing streak come to a head across a half-minute stretch in extra time during their 2-1 overtime victory on Monday at Gila River Arena.
A trio of Predators just outside the crease pounded what seemed like a dozen or more shots on the Arizona Coyotes net roughly halfway through the OT session, but still Coyotes rookie netminder Louis Domigue was up to the task. The Preds seemed destined to come up empty once again, until D-man Cody Franson restarted the play back to Seth Jones at the point and James Neal hammered home the winner.
“You can't pull out of it overnight, but you’ve got to start with a win and build off that,” Neal said. “We played some good games in the six-game losing streak, but we played a lot of games that weren't us. [Monday], we were back on the positive and doing the good things in the offensive zone that makes us a great hockey team and it paid off.”
Monday’s narrow victory felt like a slumpbuster for the team that reclaimed the NHL’s top spot after going pointless for a half dozen contests, but the Predators didn’t want to overblow a one-goal win. At the same time, getting two points for the first time since Feb. 24 felt pretty good.
“It was a huge win,” forward Matt Cullen said. “It doesn't matter [how it happened], ultimately it’s two points in the standings and we really needed it. Now we’ve got to get back to work and get our game back to where we need to be.”
“We got a win, and it was a tough game,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “They’re missing some players, but I can guarantee you that their group played hard tonight and made it difficult out there. It was good to press on and get the win at the end and start the trip this way.”
The visitors entered the third period with the lead after Paul Gaustad’s second period score gave the Predators the first goal of a game for the first time in 12 contests. The forward spun and fired a quick shot on the Coyotes net and beat Domingue, who was making his second career NHL start.
Arizona tied the contest at 7:57 of the third with Neal in the box serving a double minor for high sticking. Kyle Chipchura deflected a puck for his fourth tally of the season, but that was the only puck that went past Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne.
The Finnish netminder recorded 28 saves and maintained his 0.00 goals-average and perfect 1.000 save percentage in OTs this season. The Preds victory over the Coyotes was their first in part one of a four-game road trip and put Nashville into a tie with Anaheim for first place in the League with 91 points.
Fight for Fish, Goal for Goose:
There are some who say fights in the NHL have no correlation to what happens in the course of a game. That may very well be true, but when Preds forward Mike Fisher decided to drop the gloves with B.J. Crombeen three minutes into the second period, and then Gaustad scored to put Nashville up 1-0 just 24 seconds later, it’s hard not to notice.
“Fish and Goose getting in scraps there helped set the tone, and you talk about leadership, those are two guys taking it into their own hands,” Cullen said. “I thought the guys battled and responded and found a way to get a win.”
“Fish is one of those guys that goes out there every night blocking shots, and he's such a good leader,” Neal said. “He gave us a good boost there, and so did Goose with a goal and a fight.”
Gaustad threw some punches of his own later in the period with Chipchura, placing him two-thirds of the way to a Gordie Howe hat trick, consisting of a goal, assist and a fight in the same game.
No matter if the hands are used for fist-throwing or goal-scoring, the efforts worked tonight. Those on the bench certainly took note on both occasions.
“You talk about two veteran guys that have been around and laying it on the line for the boys, that really sparked us,” Cullen said. “It was good to see those guys go to battle for us.”
The Predators completed a three-game season sweep of the Coyotes with a 2-1 victory on Monday. The win completed their fifth time going undefeated in a set of games against an opponent (also swept Columbus, Toronto, Florida, Edmonton).
Paul Gaustad's second period score gave the Predators their first lead in over four contests or precisely 279:30 of game time. The goal was Gaustad’s third of the season and first on the road.
The 2-1 OT win over the Coyotes ended a six-game losing streak for the Predators (a season high) and was their first since Feb. 24 (a 5-2 Nashville win versus Colorado).
Nashville continues the current road trip on Thursday in San Jose, before heading to Los Angeles and Anaheim this weekend.