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Special Teams Key in Predators Fourth-Straight Win

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators made it four wins in a row with a 3-1 triumph over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.

Strong special teams’ play and three points from Preds Captain Shea Weber paced Nashville to their third win in four tries over their Central Division rival. The home team’s power play converted on two of six opportunities and the Predators shorthanded unit notched a crucial 5-on-3 kill with the team holding a 2-1 advantage in the third period.

“Special teams is something you want to improve on all year long, and we’ve had a good run here; they’re really doing a great job for us,” Predators forward Eric Nystrom said. “We gave up that one penalty-kill goal, and that was their only goal tonight. We want to be perfect, and we’ve been close. We ended up getting those kills near the end and that was a big turning point.”

Weber put his team on the board less than five minutes into the game with a blistering one-timer past the Jets’ Ondrej Pavelec at 4:47. The 29-year-old defenseman contributed to Nashville’s two other tallies, recording assists on Filip Forsberg and James Neal’s goals.

“Everybody knows about his shot,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said of Weber. “He gets one and boom it’s 1-0. It goes without saying that he’s such a key player for us and our Captain….He’s always dangerous.”

The Jets began the final frame down a goal, but were presented with a prime opportunity to even the contest when Victor Bartley and Weber both skated to the penalty box within 29 seconds of each other.

The Preds PK was up to the task, however, as the unit killed off 1:31 of the Winnipeg 5-on-3 opportunity.

“There were some absolutely huge blocks; I know that Fish (Mike Fisher) had one and I think [Roman] Josi had one too,” Rinne said. “A lot of guys did. It’s just one of those nights when I was able to make the saves at the key times. It was a huge win.”

Roughly five minutes after the 5-on-3 kill, Neal’s even-strength score at 16:10 of the third effectively iced the game for Nashville to keep them three points ahead of the entire NHL in the League standings.

Rinne recorded 32 saves for his 32nd victory of the campaign, improving to 13-1-1 in his last 15 starts.

Another Record for Forsberg:

Another game, another franchise record for Predators rookie Filip Forsberg. The Ostervala, Sweden, native collected the team’s single-season points record by a first-year forward nearly five-weeks ago. Tuesday, he added a new mark.

Forsberg set a franchise-best for rookies with 19 goals in 55 games, breaking the previous record set by Alex Radulov in 2006-07 (18 tallies in 64 games) with a power-play goal less than four minutes into the second period.

“It was pretty open to be honest,” Forsberg said of the shooting lane on his goal. “Josi kind of pulled the whole PK over there to that one side and just gave it to me. I had all of the time in the world to pick my corner, and I got a really good screen from Neal and also their D-men, so it was a pretty easy goal to score.”

The superlatives assigned to Forsberg have likely become redundant, but simply because the forward’s offensive feats are frequent shouldn’t take away from their significance. The 20-year-old leads Nashville with 50 points, a plus-minus rating of +22 and is tops among all NHL rookies in goals, assists and points.

“We had a great view of the net from the bench and the screen was so perfect...We knew there was no way that Filip was going to miss that,” Nystrom said. “He just absolutely buried it. He’s a talent and it’s fun to watch. I love it when he’s playing hard and doing all the little things as well as the offense, but he’s having an amazing year.”

Last season, the Predators highest scoring forwards were Patric Hornqvist with 53 points and Craig Smith with 52. With 27 games remaining in the season, Forsberg is only three points shy of Hornqvist’s 2013-14 mark.

“I was just trying to get ready for camp to make the team earlier this summer, and now we’re here, I can’t complain about anything,” Forsberg said of his record-setting play. “The team has been playing great all year and I’m just really happy I’ve been able to contribute to that.”

Penalty Kill Stands Tall:

Since the All-Star Break, the Predators penalty kill has been on fire. The team’s two, four-man units have killed 29 of 31 penalties faced, beginning with a Jan. 27 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

With Nashville up 2-1 in third period against Winnipeg on Tuesday, the Predators may have turned in their best shorthanded work in recent memory. At 9:02 of the final frame, the Jets were given over 90 seconds of 5-on-3 power-play time after Weber and Bartley both took minor penalties.

“That was a huge kill for us,” Nystrom said. “That was a huge, huge turning point in the game. If they score there, it’s a different game, but [our] guys battled it out. We battled some penalty kills at the end of the game and found a way.”

“At that point, the game goes either way, right?” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “They get a chance to score while 5-on-3 and then they still would have been on the power play. It’s a huge swing in momentum for us...Our guys played hard defensively all night. The penalty kill was more of a reflection of the same thing.”

Seth Jones’ diving clear early in the dual penalty kills stopped an extended stretch of offensive zone time for the Jets and let the Predators PK unit catch a breath.

“That’s what the penalty kill is like, especially when you’re down two men,” Nystrom said of Jones’ lunging play. “The desperation and the willingness to pay a price when you’re tired, you can barely bend your legs but you battle and those guys were incredible.”

“It was huge,” Forsberg said of the 5-on-3 kill. “With a goal there, you never know what is going to happen in a game coming into the last five minutes. It was really impressive to see how they sacrificed themselves to get the win.”

End Game:

With their victory over the Jets, Nashville became the first team in the NHL to record 80 points this season. The Preds have a three-point cushion between the No. 2 team in the League, the Anaheim Ducks.

The Predators are now 14-4-3 against the Central Division, and the club owns a four-point lead over second-place St. Louis and a 10-point lead over third-place Chicago.

With two assists on the evening, defenseman Roman Josi tied a career high for points in a season with 40 (10g-30a). Josi leads all Nashville blueliners in points this season.

Colin Wilson dressed for the first time since Feb. 7 after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Wilson finished with 13:00 of ice time and two shots on goal against the Jets.

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