In the most important game of the season yet, the Predators delivered.
Ryan Ellis and Yakov Trenin scored in regulation, while Juuse Saros was perfect in the shootout, as Nashville collected a crucial pair of points in a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena. The result gives the Preds wins in 12 of their last 15 games overall to continue to hold onto the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division.
After dropping a 3-0 decision to Tampa Bay 24 hours ago, the Predators responded in a matchup against Dallas, likely the club that will provide Nashville the stiffest competition down the stretch for a bid into the postseason. But, just as the Preds have done in three of their last four victories against the Stars, they prevailed in a shootout against one of their fiercest rivals.
Video: Hynes explains what Preds did well in 3-2 (SO) win
"We really focused on the competitiveness of the game," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said. "We're all aware of the standings, but it's the best time of the year and this is when the most competitive games bring out the most competitive men. We talked about really enjoying the process…but we thought about it this morning - it's going to be a Masters Sunday, and there's going to be a playoff-type game for us. Just really proud of the way that the guys have readied themselves for the games and the commitment level, the pushback in the games, the physicality throughout the lineup… When you look throughout our lineup, doesn't matter the size of the guy, the competitiveness in the lineup is making a big difference, and that's how you win hockey games."
Video: DAL@NSH: Ellis' shot finds twine, ties it 1-1 in 1st
After Roope Hintz gave the Stars a 1-0 lead early in the first, Ellis floated one in from the point for his first tally since returning from injury to even the score through 20 minutes. Nashville took their first lead of the night when Trenin snapped a shot past Anton Khudobin for his fourth of the campaign, but before the second stanza was out, Jamie Oleksiak drove to the net and beat Saros to tie the game once more.
Video: DAL@NSH: Trenin scores in 2nd period
The third period solved nothing, and neither did overtime, but Ryan Johansen was the lone player to convert in the shootout, and Saros stopped all three Dallas shooters he faced to give the Preds their fifth win in five shootout tries this season, as well as an extra point and a successful conclusion to the weekend.
Video: DAL@NSH: Johansen, Saros lift Predators in shootout
"Our overtime [and shootout] performance has been very strong all year," Johansen said. "With this season likely coming down to the wire, that's going to be a big factor and just goes to show our depth and skill throughout our team. In those situations, guys elevate their game and find ways to make big plays, and especially our goaltenders too doing the job down in the net as well. It's so crucial finding ways to win games in overtime."
Video: Johansen, Trenin recap Preds' 3-2 shootout triumph
The Predators also embraced the physicality of the rivalry with 33 hits on the night, led by six from Trenin and four more from forward Tanner Jeannot, who was participating in his second-career game after receiving a recall from the AHL on Sunday.
"It's just fun to play these games," Trenin said. "It's like a playoff game. Every point matters, [and it's] just a big battle."
The Predators now have 47 of those points compared to 43 for Chicago and 41 for Dallas, the two clubs that figure to chase Nashville the rest of the way for the final playoff spot in the Central.
There's no room for the Preds to let up in the final 14 games of the regular season either, but the way they continue to play, they may not have to worry about any sort of letdown whatsoever.
"We're vibing," Johansen joked when asked about his team's shift in confidence over the past month. "We're feeling good, it's a simple recipe of how to have fun - you go out and come to the rink every day, you work hard, and obviously we love what we do, and we just have fun every single day. We're kind of getting back to the basics after a tough start and just coming in and putting our work boots on and working for each other and having fun… We've had each other's back since Day One, and that's come out here in the last 15 games or so. We've stuck together and dug ourselves out of a hole and worked ourselves into a good spot."
Video: DAL Recap: Stars fall in shootout
Prior to Sunday's game, the Preds recalled forward Tanner Jeannot from Chicago (AHL). Jeannot appeared in his second-career contest and dished out four hits and provided a screen on Trenin's goal in 10:31 of ice time.
Predators forward Michael McCarron was suspended two games on Sunday for an illegal check to the head committed on Saturday against Tampa Bay.
Nashville's three-game homestand will conclude on Tuesday night (at 7 p.m. CT) against Tampa Bay before the Predators head to Carolina for a pair with the Hurricanes later in the week.
The 2020-21 NHL Trade Deadline comes on Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. CT.