The Nashville Predators have predominantly liked the way they’ve played as of late. Those efforts came to fruition on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Preds scored twice in the third period to defeat the Kings 2-1.
The victory was the 200th career win for Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne and the 600th all-time for the Predators franchise.
“It feels really good,” Rinne said of the win. “Obviously [L.A. is] one of the top teams and we played a great game. I felt that defensively, that was one of the better games in a long time. Obviously everybody knows that we’ve struggled a little bit here, and that was a huge win for us against a really good team.”
Jeff Carter got Los Angeles on the board first with a power-play tally in the opening frame. After a shot from the point was blocked, Carter one-timed the rebound past an outstretched Rinne to put L.A. up 1-0.
The score remained stagnant through the second period, as neither team found the twine in the middle frame. Nashville continued to put pucks on Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, with Filip Forsberg registering four shots on the Los Angeles net through 40 minutes.
But as the third period commenced, the Predators finally got a bounce. And then two.
Craig Smith tallied on the power play for Nashville to tie the contest at 1-1, depositing home a rebound that seemed to linger in the crease for an eternity before the stick of No. 15 in white arrived. The goal was Smith’s 22nd of the season, tying James Neal for the team lead.
Just 1:06 later, Viktor Stalberg got a little help from Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin to give the Preds a 2-1 advantage. Stalberg threw the biscuit on net, looking for Calle Jarnkrok in front, but Muzzin got a piece before the puck arrived to the intended recipient, tipping it over the shoulder of Quick. The goal was Stalberg’s first of the season and proved to be the game-winner.
“That’s huge for our confidence,” Stalberg said of the victory. “Especially going through that stretch and against a good L.A. team that’s desperate for points, that’s going to be a confidence boost for us, and hopefully we can carry that into [Sunday’s game against Anaheim].”
“We’re down 1-0, we love the way we’re playing and we’re behind again,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Give a lot of credit for everybody just staying focused and continuing to press. It was a solid, solid win for us.”
200 for Rinne, 600 for Nashville:
Pekka Rinne recorded his first victory in the National Hockey League on Dec. 15, 2005. Fast forward 199 triumphs later, all with Nashville, and Rinne owns 200 wins in the NHL. And it just so happened to work out that No. 200 for Rinne is also No. 600 all-time for the Predators.
Those nice, even numbers equate to Rinne claiming exactly one-third of Nashville’s franchise wins. Not bad for a guy that was selected in the eighth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
But Rinne, modest as always, wasn’t thinking of the milestone headed into this evening. As is customary, he was just worried about the Preds getting two points.
“Actually, [Ben Vanderklok], our goalie coach, just told me about it,” Rinne said of his achievement. “I knew when it was maybe like five wins away or something, but I haven't thought about it because it’s been taking forever. We've been losing some games, so I haven't even been thinking about it. But I’ve played for some really good teams with really good teammates.”
Also as usual, Rinne’s teammates had nothing but praise for the Finnish netminder who seemingly gives his club a chance at victory on every occasion.
“He’s been our rock the whole season,” Smith said. “He’s great and every night he’s bringing it and keeping us in the games. He’s surely a big part of why we’re winning a lot of games.”
“In my mind, he’s the best goalie in the League, and he gives us a chance to win every night,” Stalberg said. “He’s great back there, he does everything so well, competes every day and he’s just one of those guys that has an ability to be a star player for you.”
Sure, the milestone is nice, but Rinne is always looking ahead. After all, there are more victories waiting to be claimed.
“Now,” Rinne said, “It’s time to go toward 300 [wins].”
James Neal missed tonight’s contest against Los Angeles with an upper-body injury. Laviolette called Neal “day-to-day” after the game.
Viktor Stalberg’s goal was his first since March 21, 2014, and his fifth point of the season. With an assist on Stalberg’s goal, defenseman Roman Josi tallied his 48th point on the campaign to lead all Nashville blueliners, tying him for fifth in the League in D-man points.
Nashville finished off a clean season-sweep of the Kings, going 3-0-0 against Los Angeles during the 2014-15 regular season. The Preds are now 12-4-2 versus the Pacific Division this season. Along with their spotless set turned in against Arizona earlier in the trip, Saturday’s sweep was the second recorded by the Preds in a five-day span.