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Strong Start, Late Rally Not Enough for Preds Against Islanders

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators got the strong start and late-game resiliency they’ve missed the past two weeks, but it still wasn’t enough against the New York Islanders on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.

Nashville rallied twice, including a two-goal, third period comeback to even the score, but the club fell 4-3 to the Islanders and suffered their fifth-straight loss.

For the initial 10 minutes of the opening period, the Preds delivered the quality beginning to the game they said they so desperately wanted prior to the contest; but midway through first, it was the Preds’ opponent that tallied first for the 10th-straight time.

“We had a better start, but you look back and it’s 2-0 or 2-1 when we were able to score at the end there,” Predators forward Mike Ribeiro said. “Not the results you want. Even after we tie it, we have to grind for points. At 3-3, you need to be careful with what you do with the puck. If you make a mistake, it’s in the back of the net. It’s hard to win when you give up four goals in a game.”

John Tavares opened the scoring with his 31st goal of the campaign, and seven minutes later, a deflection by Anders Lee on the power play put the Isles up 2-0. The Predators wouldn’t fade away that easily, however.

“We wanted to play a solid game,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “To evaluate the periods, we had a great first one with not a lot to show for it, but a big goal at the end to pull it back a little. In the second, they came out a little bit more determined and they were fast and got some chances off of the rush. The third period, I thought we went back to work again; our guys played hard and did their best to fight back. It was a tough way to end.”

Colin Wilson beat the first period buzzer with a rebound tally for the first 20-goal season of his career. No doubt an important goal for the Predators, who appeared destined to end the opening 20 minutes frustrated after carrying the play for most of the first.

Following a scoreless second frame, Nashville again trailed by two scores after Nick Leddy’s shot beat Pekka Rinne under the arm at 8:39 of the third.

The Predators resounding answer came with two goals in only 31 seconds.

First, a Ryan Ellis point shot deflected off of Mike Ribeiro; then Craig Smith buried a Filip Forsberg feed to knot the game at three.

“We played hard,” Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “We were moving our feet, we put pucks to the net. I think we had a bit of a lull in the second, but in the third, we brought the energy back and got right back in the game and tied it. They capitalized on their chance and we, unfortunately, couldn’t get another one.”

The tie only lasted three minutes.

Brock Nelson converted a bouncing puck off of Rinne’s pads and over Seth Jones’ stick to put the Islanders ahead 4-3. The Predators were unable to rally for a third time and fell in regulation for a season-high, fifth-consecutive time. The club remains in first place in the Central Division by a four-point margin and will face a divisional foe in their next contest on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.

“I really think we have to look at this as a team, and we will get out of this together,” Laviolette said. “Our guys have done an excellent job of staying tight as a group, and there are a lot of things that could have been better tonight too. We still gave up scoring chances; it’s one of those things we could do better, but I think it’s important to stay together right now.”

1201 for Matt Cullen:

What’s in a number?

For Matt Cullen, it’s the memories and little moments spread out across his over 1,200 games played in the NHL. The Predators forward hit the special total on Tuesday in Nashville’s road game against New Jersey, and the organization honored him on Thursday for being just the 103rd player in NHL history to skate in 1,200 contests.

“It’s funny, when you hit a [milestone] like this, it lets you pause a minute and think back to all the games and fun times,” Cullen said. “It’s is amazing how fast it goes. I’ve been really lucky and blessed to play this long, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s [nice] to look back and remember all the fun times.”

Prior to the start of the Islanders and Predators game, Cullen was joined on the blue line by his three sons, Brooks, Wyatt and Joey, during the singing of the national anthem. A special moment for the 38-year-old, who also received a video tribute during the first TV timeout.

“They’re at a fun age right now where they really enjoy being around the game,” Cullen said. “So for me as a dad, it’s a lot of fun to have them out there.”

“It’s a credit to him to be able to put together a career like that,” Laviolette said of Cullen. “I’ve known Matt for a long time, and we experienced some good things together in Carolina.

“He’s a class act. He’s a professional athlete in every sense of the word. He’s just a pro. He’s got a great family, and it’s nice to see him get to enjoy that milestone here with his family tonight.”

The veteran, and 2006 Stanley Cup winner, shouldn’t have a problem logging five additional games over the next two weeks to pass former Rangers blueliner Brian Leetch and enter the NHL’s Top 100 for all-time games played. But it’s not the quantity that matters most to Cullen, it’s the unforgettable memories made when skating in the game’s toughest moments.

He has memories of doing just that nine years ago this June, and he wouldn’t mind adding a few more in three months.

End Game:

With his tally in the first period, Colin Wilson reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career. Ryan Ellis registered an assist and two shots on goal in 12:28 of ice time in his first game back in the lineup since Feb. 26.

Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg remain tied for the team lead in points with 53 apiece. Ribeiro tallied a goal and Forsberg added an assist against the Islanders.

St. Louis lost on Thursday night to Philadelphia, enabling the Preds to remain four points ahead of the Blues for the Central Division lead.

Nashville will look to snap their five-game losing streak on Saturday night when they host the Winnipeg Jets for a special 6 p.m. (CT) start time on Hockey Fights Cancer night at Bridgestone Arena.

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