Turris’ shootout goal lifts Predators past Canadiens
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — How well are things going for the Nashville Predators these days?
They have won three consecutive games ending in overtime or shootouts after they were the NHL’s worst team during the past two seasons.
Goalie Pekka Rinne was a big factor Wednesday night in Nashville’s 3-2 decision over the Montreal Canadiens, stopping all three attempts in the shootout. Paul Byron, Jonathan Drouin and Max Pacioretty all tried and failed to solve Rinne, with a blocker save on Pacioretty’s wrister ending matters.
“I remember a lot of losses the last couple of years,” Rinne said. “Those are some big points. It’s a big aspect of the game. As a goalie, it’s nice to be able to help change the game. It was nice to stop those three shots.”
Kyle Turris was the lone player to score in the shootout. The Nashville center deked Antti Niemi and then whistled a wrister between his pads to help the Predators (13-6-2) take their eighth win in the past nine matches.
Nashville improved to an NHL-best 8-2-0 in November. But the Predators couldn’t create separation until the shootout’s end against a short-handed opponent.
With its top defense pairing and All-Star goalie Carey Price on the shelf, Montreal used a makeshift lineup and Niemi’s best performance of the season to nearly steal two points.
Niemi (0-4-1), who entered the game with a 6.67 goals-against average and an .820 save percentage, looked more like the guy who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010 than the one whom Pittsburgh cut after a brutal start to the season as Matt Murray’s backup.
Niemi made 31 saves Wednesday, including a clutch stop of Calle Jarnkrok’s backhander on a late third-period breakaway that kept the Canadiens within a goal. He also denied Craig Smith’s point-blank opportunity in the last two minutes of overtime.
“He gave us an opportunity to win the hockey game,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said of Niemi. “We needed that kind of performance from a goalie.”
Montreal forced overtime shortly after Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen whiffed on potential empty-net goals that would have iced a regulation win. Defenseman Joe Morrow’s wrister through net-front traffic eluded Rinne at 19:04 for his third goal, tying the score.
But the Predators were able to survive the part of the game that has doomed them for years, leaving Julien wishing his team’s effort had resulted in a bigger reward.
“We all know this business is based on winning,” he said. “That part’s always disappointing. Every team goes through injuries, and we just have to show some character. You just wish you had a little more to show for it.”
After failing to cash in a five-on-three in the game’s first three minutes, Montreal (8-12-3) initiated scoring at 12:47 of the first period. Jordie Benn skated unfettered into the slot and beat Rinne with a wrister to the stick side for his second goal.
Filip Forsberg wiped out the deficit at 19:58 of the opening period with the first of two power-play markers. After a brilliant rush by P.K. Subban, Forsberg collected the rebound of his shot and poked it past Niemi for his 10th goal of the season.
Nashville took its first lead at 3:16 of the third period. Smith won a puck battle behind the net and fed an open Forsberg in the slot. Niemi didn’t stand a chance as Forsberg wristed home his seventh man-advantage goal of the season.
That was it for the Nashville offense, which was held under four goals for the first time since a 3-1 win on Nov. 7 in Columbus. But the Predators still did enough to take another victory on a night when they weren’t at their sharpest.
“We didn’t play our best game,” Subban admitted. “Starting on the penalty kill set us back a little bit. But it’s exciting to know we haven’t played our best hockey yet.”
NOTES: Montreal D Shea Weber (lower-body injury) missed his second straight game. Drawing into the lineup was 26-year-old Jakub Jerabek, whom the team recalled from its AHL affiliate in Laval for his first NHL game. ... Nashville’s 5-3 win on Monday night over Winnipeg marked the 10th time in 20 games it had scored at least four goals, tying a franchise record held by the 2006-07 team. ... Joining Weber on the scratch list for the Canadiens were D Victor Mete and C Torrey Mitchell. ... The Predators made one change to their lineup, inserting C Frederick Gaudreau and scratching LW Cody McLeod.