Mattias Ekholm tallied the winner, Juuse Saros stood tall and the Nashville Predators defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets by a 4-3 final on Sunday evening at Nationwide Arena. The result gives Nashville 28 wins and 64 points overall and a victory to finish off their back-to-back set that started last night in Minnesota.
A back-and-forth affair, Nashville dug in and improved period by period, eventually finding themselves on the right side of the ledger when it was all over.
"I liked the way we stayed with it and got better as the game went on," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "After the break, and a difficult night last night with the travel and getting in when we did and early start today, we seemed to get better and played better hockey as the game went on - just resilient."
The Predators couldn't have asked for a better start, thanks to a one-timer off the stick of Ryan Ellis less than three minutes into the game. The shot found its way past Sergei Bobrovsky for a 1-0 advantage.
That score carried into the second period where Kevin Fiala, recalled yesterday from AHL Milwaukee, took advantage of a Columbus turnover and potted his seventh of the season to give the Preds a 2-0 lead.
Brandon Saad got the Blue Jackets on the board when he tipped a shot past Saros, before Calle Jarnkrok gave Nashville a two-goal lead once more by finishing a scramble in front. Before the period was out, Oliver Bjorkstrad brought Columbus back to within one to set up a frenzied finish.
Columbus tied the score at 3-3 early in the third, but Filip Forsberg found Ekholm for the final tally of the night, and Saros continued to turn the Blue Jackets away until the final horn in Ryan Johansen's first game back in the town where he started his NHL career.
"We came here focused on winning a hockey game, and we beat them, so it feels good," Johansen said.
Video: NSH@CBJ: Fiala dekes around Bobrovsky for superb goal
After dropping a 5-2 decision in Minnesota on Saturday night, it would've been easy for the Predators to make excuses in another hostile environment in Columbus one night later. Instead, they topped one of the League's top teams with tired legs but plenty of heart.
"It was a tough circumstance for our group tonight," Johansen said. "It wasn't our best game of the year by any means, but we had to find a way to win. We had guys step up and make big plays for us… We just found a way to win tonight."
"Just the battle level… I thought we were battling and we got some goals, lucky breaks, if you can call it that," Ekholm said. "I didn't think we played up to our potential, but we're fighting, we're battling out there and good things happen when you battle like this. We'll take the two points."
Video: NSH@CBJ: Forsberg, Ekholm team up for go-ahead goal
Filip Forsberg started it, Mattias Ekholm finished it.
The two Swedes combined to score Nashville's fourth and final tally of the night - a marker that proved to be the game-winner - to give the Preds an impressive win over the Blue Jackets.
It was P.K. Subban who found Forsberg at the start of the play for Subban's second assist of the night, as Forsberg went around the Columbus defense before he fed a pass back in the slot to Ekholm, who sniped a shot top shelf for his third of the season.
"I think we caught them out there for a bit and Fil came off fresh and had some speed, so I figured I'd try to jump in the play," Ekholm said. "He made a great play, and it was just put my stick there and almost an open net, so all props to him."
Video: NSH@CBJ: Saros robs Atkinson with terrific pad save
He may have allowed three goals on the night, but Preds netminder Juuse Saros turned in yet another solid performance at the NHL level, stopping 35 shots overall (and tying a career high), including 19 in the first period alone.
"He was outstanding," Laviolette said of his goaltender. "He was really good when we needed him to be. When we weren't at our sharpest in the first period, I thought he was extremely sharp and gave us opportunity to stay in that game."
The composure from the young netminder is what impresses Mattias Ekholm most - plus the saves Saros somehow finds a way to consistently make.
"Just a the way he conducts himself out there, he's so calm, he never seems to be out of position, and for a young goaltender coming into the League to be that calm; he just looks like he's ready," Ekholm said. "He's NHL ready. He's ready to take on anything they can throw at him, and tonight he was huge, he was key for us. It wouldn't have been a 1-0 game in the first if it wasn't for him."
Video: Ekholm's goal lifts Predators to 4-3 win over Jackets
With an assist on Calle Jarnkrok's goal, P.K. Subban extended his point streak against Columbus to six games. Subban also has six points in his last five games overall.
The Predators return to Bridgestone Arena for a four-game home stand that begins on Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m. CT). The stretch of four home games in six nights continues Thursday vs. Colorado (7 p.m.), then with a back-to-back set vs. Washington on Saturday (4 p.m.) and Edmonton on Sunday (4 p.m.). Tickets are available for all four games by calling 615-770-7800 or by visiting NashvillePredators.com.