It certainly wasn’t pretty.
But in the end, the Nashville Predators scratched out a 4-3 victory over a scrappy Florida Panthers squad at Bridgestone Arena. With the win, the Predators record is now 3-3.
The game opened with the Panthers controlling the puck and holding a territorial advantage over the Predators. Pekka Rinne had to be sharp to keep the Panthers off the board early.
The Predators got their legs going and started to swing momentum midway of the period. With the puck in the offensive zone, Mike Fisher slid a pass to Shea Weber, who had worked himself open on the blue line near the middle of the ice. Weber absolutely blew a rocket past Jacob Markstrom to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 9:23 of the first period.
The Panthers tied the game a t 1 at 1:16 of the second period as Jonathan Huberdeau took a pass from Scott Gomez in the high slot and cruised in on net untouched and beat Rinne over the shoulder. The Predators defense did not touch Huberdeau as he skated into prime scoring territory and he made them pay for the lapse.
The Predators regained the lead at 12:48 as Craig Smith found Mike Fisher alone in the right face off circle. Fisher skated in on Markstrom and made a nice forehand to backhand move and lifted the puck over Markstrom’s pad and inside the far post to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.
The Panthers answered right back on a bizarre play. The puck was popped into the air at the top of the crease and Victor Bartley tried to bat it out of harm’s way with his hand. Instead, it bounced off the helmet of a Predators defender and caromed out to the right side of the net. Former Predator Marcel Goc gathered in the puck and put a shot under the cross bar to tie the game at 2 at 13:30.
The Predators once again took the lead at 1:22 of the third period. Craig Smith fought through traffic and banged home a rebound of a Gabriel Bourque shot. This was Smith’s first goal of the season.
The Predators tallied on the power play at 5:13 as Patric Hornqvist walked out from the goal line and beat Markstrom with a shot to the far post.
The Panthers made it interesting as Matt Gilroy took a shot and it hit David Legwand’s stick and redirected past Rinne at 11:37 to cut the Predators lead to 4-3.
The Predators were able to hold off the Panthers for the remainder of the third period to notch the win. The Predators have won 3 of their last 4 games and are 3-1 on home ice.
•The Predators were 1 for 2 on the power play. This is encouraging as the Predators need to improve their scoring with the man advantage. While they were 50%, the first power play the Predators had in the first period was a disjointed mess. The team has to get more consistent when they have the man advantage. At times, they struggle entering the zone and often the puck carrier gets outnumbered, eliminating offensive zone chances. While showing signs of improvement, the power play is still a work in progress.
•Viktor Stalberg played only 10:07 in the game, and if I am not mistaken, did not play in the third period. He is coming back from an injury, but the Predators need him to get his game going and become a factor.
•Craig Smith had his best game of the season. He had a goal and an assist and his speed created problems for the Panthers. Smith arguably has the best offensive skill set on the team and he appears to be playing with confidence. This bodes well for the team.
•Congratulations to David Legwand for playing his 900th NHL game, all as a Predator. I think he used the word “obviously” at least once for each game he has played in his post game interview.
•Mattias Ekholm and Kevin Klein continue to log big minutes and play very well in the second pairing. Klein had 24:11 of ice time and Ekholm had 21:15.
•Fisher and Hornqvist are the only Predators with more than 1 goal. They both have 2.
This was a tough game for the Predators and one that could have easily gone the wrong way. The Panthers forechecked well and challenged throughout the game. This team responded to the challenge and refused to fold under the pressure. Florida held a 17-15 shot advantage through 2 periods, but the Predators stepped up the pressure in the third, out shooting the Panthers 15-8 and scoring 2 goals.
That is the sign of a team that is beginning to grow in confidence and develop some chemistry.
Those positive trends need to continue.
My three stars:
1. Craig Smith
2. Patric Hornqvist
3. Shea Weber
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.