Filip Forsberg scored less than a minute into the game, and the Nashville Predators fended off a late push for a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena. The triumph gives the Preds 16 wins on the season, two of which have now come against the Wild.
The division victory was an important one for Nashville, bumping them up to 38 points and staying right in the thick of the Central.
“I thought our guys really just stepped on the gas and kept playing the game hard,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “There were lots of points that were critical in that game. When you have a team that has had a tough string of luck with regard to getting things done and winning hockey games, there were some big points in that game.”
Forsberg got the Preds off to the ideal start, deflecting home a Shea Weber shot that eluded goaltender Devan Dubnyk just 46 seconds into the contest to give Nashville a 1-0 advantage. Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne denied Jason Zucker on a penalty shot at the 8:28 mark, extending to get a piece of the chance with his glove hand.
The redirections continued on a Predators 5-on-3 advantage, courtesy of a Weber point shot once more. This time, it was Mike Ribeiro staked out in front of the cage, getting a piece of the shot to put Nashville up by two scores before the first period was out.
“It changes the game, they have to start changing what they’re doing and it’s just easier to play the game once you’re two up,” Ribeiro said. “Even if you score one, you’re still up and then you’re able to score a third one, and it’s just a different game. You can extend your lead after you score the first goal, and I think that’s a perfect example that once you score one, you score two then it changes the outcome of the game.”
James Neal potted his team-leading 13th goal of the season to put Nashville up 3-0 in the second stanza, snapping a shot through Dubnyk from the left side of the cage. Minnesota answered 43 seconds later, as Zach Parise tipped a Marco Scandella point shot past Rinne.
Zucker got the Wild to within one in the third, but Rinne and his teammates thwarted off the final Minnesota opportunities to come away with the victory.
“It’s a big win,” Laviolette said. “That’s a big game. We’re in a situation where the wins have been hard to come by.
“I really liked the way we hung our jerseys tonight together as a group. We all went out and played hard and we got a big win. Peks was terrific in net; you need your goaltender to be terrific and he was, but it was the division game against a real good hockey team that is playing well and we needed to get that done tonight. We did, and now we have to wake up tomorrow and start thinking about the next one before the break.”
The Predators have recorded a number of solid starts as of late, but playing with the same tenacity for the entirety of the contest was an issue. On Saturday, they outshot, outplayed and outscored the Wild from the drop of the puck to the final horn.
“We played a pretty solid 60 [minutes],” Forsberg said. “They have a talented group so they’re going to get chances, but whenever they got chances, Peks played unbelievable back in the net and I think it was a pretty solid game. We let in a goal there and got a little nervous in the third in the end, but overall it was a good performance.”
The win is nice; the fact that it comes against a team in Nashville’s division is even better. It’s been a month since the Preds strung together consecutive victories, but as Rinne said on Friday after practice, sometimes one is all it takes. Nashville will get one more shot before the Christmas break on Monday against Montreal, and one more solid outing would provide added peace of mind during the holiday hiatus.
“That’s a good team, so it definitely is something to build off of,” Weber said. “We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves here. We’re not world beaters by any means. It’s a good solid game for us, but we have a tough opponent in Montreal who is fighting for a lot right now because they’ve been struggling too. [We need to] finish off strong here before the break and then figure it out when we come back.”
Gif of the Game:
With Pekka Rinne scrambling in the goalmouth, Calle Jarnkrok protects the near-empty cage by blocking the Wild’s bid at the tying score.
Peter Laviolette on Pekka Rinne’s performance:
“He looked really good. He looked good this morning. He came to the rink, he was sharp this morning, and you knew that Minnesota was going to get some chances. They’re a skilled team, they have two really skilled lines, their third line can contribute, their backend can move the puck and contribute, and you knew there was going to be action tonight. He probably would’ve liked to had a couple just to feel the puck a little bit before you have to face a penalty shot, but even during the penalty shot he looked really strong. He was dead on with what he was doing.”
Filip Forsberg now has a point in three of his past five games versus the Wild (2g-1a).
The Preds are 4-0-0 this season when Mike Ribeiro scores a goal.
Forward Mike Fisher (Injured Reserve, lower-body) participated in the team’s morning skate, the first time he has skated with the team since sustaining his injury on Dec. 1 against Arizona.
Nashville hosts the Montreal Canadiens on Monday at Bridgestone Arena, the club’s final game before the Christmas Break, which runs Dec. 23 through the 25. The Detroit Red Wings come to town on Dec. 26.