The Nashville Predators rallied all the way back from a three-goal deficit in the third period, but ultimately fell 5-4 in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at the MTS Centre.
Kevin Fiala scored his first NHL goal in the opening frame, and James Neal’s 200th career tally evened the score at 4-4 with 14 seconds left to play in regulation to cap off a wild third period that saw the Preds claw their way back to gain a much-needed point.
“We showed some great character,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “They’re up 4-1, and we just battled and kept battling. Sometimes when it’s not going your way, you just have to try to make it a better effort and I thought we showed a great effort.”
Fiala’s first tally of his career came 59 seconds into the first period, finishing off a rush with linemate Ryan Johansen for the score. Johansen’s initial attempt from the slot was denied by Connor Hellebuyck, but Fiala was there to deposit the rebound into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Dustin Byfuglien evened the score at 1-1 for the Jets at the 6:32 mark of the second period before Bryan Little made it 2-1 Winnipeg with a power-play goal. Byfuglien added another before the period was out to give the Jets a 3-1 lead after two.
Winnipeg made it 4-1 in the third, then Johansen scored his second with the Preds on the power play, cutting the Jets lead to 4-2. Ryan Ellis got the Preds to within one when he threw the puck in front from the goal line, with the marker credited to Eric Nystrom to make it 4-3. Then, with Pekka Rinne pulled for the extra attacker, Neal finished off a flurry of chances in the dying seconds to force overtime.
“We talked about before, it’s tough when you lose a lot and it’s not going your way,” Josi said. “You get frustrated pretty quick, so we just have to stay positive. It’s definitely a good sign that we came back after we were down 4-1, and it shows some character in this team.”
Nashville finishes their road trip with a 0-3-1 record, but the way the final period of regulation of the excursion ended gives the Preds plenty of reason for optimism as their season continues on.
“We didn’t come out with two points tonight, but coming down 4-1 on the road, being on a four-game losing streak like that and being able to stick with it like that, finding a way to score goals against a goalie who played great all night is really impressive,” Johansen said. “We didn’t get two points tonight, but there was a lot of positives at the end of that game. A lot, and that’s something we can definitely build off of and use moving forward.”
Kevin Fiala was recalled by the Preds ahead of Thursday’s game in Winnipeg with the hope he could help to alleviate Nashville’s scoring woes. It took him just 59 seconds to do so.
Skating on a line with Ryan Johansen and James Neal, Fiala tallied his first career NHL goal in just his second regular season game – his first in 2015-16 – to give the Predators a 1-0 advantage early in the contest.
However, Fiala had to wait a moment for the celebration to begin. His shot entered the net just below the crossbar, struck the camera fixed to the top of the cage and bounced right back out, allowing play to continue. The review didn’t take long though, confirming the 19-year-old had indeed earned his first, who didn’t even know the puck had initially gone in.
“I saw I had an open net, and I just hit the puck. I was pretty angry at myself because I thought it wasn’t a goal,” Fiala said. “But then after the replay we saw it was a goal, so I was happy.”
Fiala’s line was dangerous all night, creating scoring chances throughout the contest and earning the rookie praise from his peers and coach.
“He played a great game, he played really strong,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “He was moving his feet and [it] seemed like he was dangerous all the time and worked really hard. [Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach] Dean Evason did a great job of getting him transitioned into the North American game and moving his feet. That’s the best I’ve seen him look.”
“He was awesome,” Josi said. “We knew he’s a high-skilled player, and he made some great plays out there.”
Although the game’s final result would’ve made that first tally even sweeter, it’s still a happy moment for Fiala, and he can’t wait to do it again.
“It would be better if we would’ve won, of course, but it’s my first goal; of course I’m happy for that,” Fiala said. “We played pretty good; it was 4-1 and we went to 4-4, and I’m pretty proud of my team. We did well, really well, but a couple of bad bounces too and bad luck sometimes, but that’s hockey. We will just go forward and forget this game.”
Kevin Fiala finished with one goal and five shots in 17:48 of ice time in his second career regular season game. Fiala skated in one game last season for the Preds, and then appeared in a postseason contest as well.
Cody Bass appeared in his third contest of the season for Nashville, registering one hit in 5:41 of ice time.
Eric Nystrom returned to the lineup Thursday after being a healthy scratch on Tuesday.
The Predators return home Saturday to host the Minnesota Wild before the Chicago Blackhawks pay a visit to Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.