The Nashville Predators revisited the shootout on Tuesday in order to claim a 4-3 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
The Predators second-consecutive shootout game, six-rounds in the breakaway competition were required before Nashville winger James Neal found the twine. On the other end of the ice, Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne turned away every Los Angeles skater he faced.
“The Kings are a team that plays hard and that’s how they win games,” Preds forward Colin Wilson said. “That’s a mentality we’ve adopted more of ourselves: playing hard, playing fast and playing playoff-style hockey… It felt like a playoff atmosphere here tonight for sure.”
Tuesday’s battle between two of the premiere teams in the Western Conference featured several lead changes and momentum swings before the Preds ultimately earned the two points. Reaching the shootout was something of a feat in itself, however, with the Preds killing two Kings power plays in the game’s final eight minutes.
“The penalty kill was terrific,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “You get a little bit nervous when you have a big game like that and you have to kill one with [three] minutes to go. But they did an excellent job all night. They were really solid in the zone with their routes and took away shooting lanes and kept the puck moving around the perimeter.”
Nashville skated to the locker room for the second intermission up 3-2 after scoring a pair of goals by Ryan Ellis and Eric Nystrom in the final three minutes of the middle period. The Kings answered just 38 seconds into the third period off of Drew Doughty’s stick before the clubs remained scoreless for the remainder of regulation and overtime.
Shootout Fortunes Changing:
Last season, Nashville was a well-documented 2-9 in shootouts in a campaign that saw them finish three points shy of the final Wild Card spot. With Tuesday’s late-round shootout win, however, the Preds notched their third win in four tries in the breakaway competition already this season.
New, skilled personnel has been one key for the Preds in games going past 65 minutes, as three of the team’s four total shootout goals have been scored by players in their first full seasons with the team. James Neal’s wrister through the five-hole bested the Kings Martin Jones on Tuesday, while Filip Forsberg scored on Saturday and Derek Roy lit the lamp against the Coyotes on Oct. 21.
“To get shootout wins, especially after the way we were last year, it’s very exciting,” Ellis said. “Two points is huge - even when one’s an option - two is that much better.”
“I think a lot of guys have a couple moves they like to go to in the [shootout],” said Neal. “For me, I usually have a good idea of what I’m going to try. Tonight, I went in with some speed because [Jones] has been really good in shootouts and he’s a patient goalie.”
But celebrating only the play of Nashville’s shooters would be a major oversight. The club’s starting goaltender has been stellar in shootouts to date - stopping the last 11-consecutive players he’s faced. Pekka Rinne not allowing any goals in Tuesday’s six-round version of the extra time finale was crucial again.
“It’s so much about your confidence in shootouts and being comfortable being out there facing the guys,” Rinne said. “I’ve had more time to practice on [shootouts] this year. Plus, when you make a few saves it pads your confidence. It feels maybe a little easier now, but it’s never that easy. You try to outwait the guys and make them do the first move and then read and react.”
Minute to Win It:
A game after surrendering two goals in a single minute of play, the Preds completed the feat themselves on Tuesday night. Ellis slapped a puck past Jones at 17:36 of the second before Nystrom tipped one home 52 ticks later.
Several Predators players reluctantly mentioned how rare the feat was when talking about giving up two quick goals in their 3-2 shootout win against the Florida Panthers; on Tuesday, they were a bit more eager to discuss the accomplishment.
“I think it was key getting at least one back by the end of the second to go into the room 2-2, but to get the lead going in there it was huge,” Ellis said. “That was very important to our team. It was unfortunate we gave one up at the start of the next period, but both teams battled hard; they got one point and we got the two.”
The quick goals were a big boost for the home team, which had struggled to find momentum since losing a one-goal lead in the first. Wilson, who assisted on Ellis’ goal, said the team felt a big lift after the Preds went from trailing to leading so quickly.
“Two goals like that really gets the fans into it and it’s a big swing to go from down a goal to up one,” Wilson said. “Those [plays] really revitalized everyone and got us some energy.”
Preds Captain Shea Weber assisted on Eric Nystrom’s second period tally, becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in assists by a defenseman with 223, passing former Preds blueliner, Kimmo Timonen. Weber now sits third in club history in all-time helpers.