The Nashville Predators weren’t able to keep pace and fell 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday evening at Consol Energy Center. The loss was Nashville’s third consecutive defeat, keeping them at 39 wins and 91 points on the season.
“Tonight, we had the effects of four games in six nights,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “We didn’t have the jump and the pop that we needed in order to execute. Everything was a little bit slow; our puck movement, forecheck, faceoffs, everything was just off a bit.”
Phil Kessel gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead at 3:06 of the first, but with one minute remaining in the frame, Ryan Johansen took a James Neal feed at the right side of the cage and potted his 14th of the season to even the score, 1-1.
It was Kessel again, this time early in the second, who gave the Penguins the lead once more. Kris Letang scored on the power play for a 3-1 lead, but then Neal tallied against his former team when he blasted a shot in the slot past Marc-Andre Fleury for his 31st of the season.
But former Preds forward Patric Hornqvist deflected home a shot on the power play before the second period was out to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead once more. Rinne’s night came to a close after the second period as Carter Hutton took over in net for the remainder of the contest.
Mike Fisher’s shot off the post in the third was as close as the Preds came for the rest of the night as Nick Bonino made it 5-2 before the end of the contest.
The Predators remarked on Pittsburgh’s team speed throughout the night, a main factor in the final result.
“We were just a step behind them all the time,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “They were quicker than us and a little faster, and they deserved to win.”
“Typically, when we’re on top of our game, our speed is racked up as well,” Laviolette said.
“Tonight, we weren’t where we needed to be speed-wise.”
The Preds were unable to clinch a spot in the postseason tonight, but they’ll be watching the Washington Capitals take on the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. With a Washington win in regulation, the Predators would earn their invitation to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We’ve been doing this for 70-something games, and it’s all about getting there,” winger Filip Forsberg said. “It doesn’t really matter how you get there. It doesn’t matter if you win the last 40 or lose the last 40. As long as you’re in, anyone can win it.”
Gif of the Game:
Peter Laviolette on his decision to pull Pekka Rinne to start the third period:
“I thought he was our best player. It was just it got to four there and just to make a change and look for something else. He’d taken a lot of shots, and there’s been a lot of work going his way… He had to make a lot of saves tonight. A lot of them.”
Defenseman Stefan Elliott made his debut in a Nashville sweater, replacing Ryan Ellis, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Elliott logged 12:20 of ice time on the night.
James Neal’s 31st goal of the season tied him with Filip Forsberg for the team lead. Both players are now two off of tying the franchise record for most goals in a single season.
The Preds return home to host the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night before Colorado and Arizona come to town next week.
James Neal registers two points against his former team, but it isn’t enough.
Infographic: Penguins Waddle By Preds