by Jackson Walsh
The Nashville Predators added to their historic season by obtaining 111 points, the most in franchise history, following a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Those who paid the price for admission (that, sadly, is getting more expensive year after year) got their money’s worth in this one. It wasn’t a playoff game but it sure felt like one from the very get go.
The Predators lit the lamp to break the scoreless tie 5:26 in the first period, off the stick of Kyle Turris. Subban received a pass from the wing and rifled a centering shot that had a hard bounce off the pads of Jones, and Turris banged it home. 1-0 Predators.
Will this be the beginning to a dominating Predator victory? Not so fast. San Jose would even it up 6:55 into the first with a goal by, who else, Logan Couture, noted thorn in the Predator’s side. He slap a quick wrister slightly out of the peripheral vision of Saros. 1-1.
Nashville’s second goal came 10:14 in the first off a highlight reel steal from Ryan Johansen as the Sharks were moving up the wing, who passed it to Arvidsson who quickly played catch with Forsberg before burying the puck past a blind sided Jones. 2-1 Preds.
Unfortunately, the Sharks, 12:05 into the period (yes, still the first) would once again answer off the stick of Brendan Dillon by a perfect shot over the head of Juuse. To be fair, he wasn’t getting that one. 2-2.
Craig Smith would once again put Nashville ahead 10:38 into the second period by another rebound, that was challenged unsuccessfully by San Jose for goaltender interference. 3-2 Predators.
What would follow was a lot of frustration and scrappy play on both sides. The “post” game, for the first time, could be a term describing what went on during the game rather than after the game. Many pucks that beat both Saros and Jones rang off the iron.
San Jose put a puck in 5:44 in the third period with a goal by Mikkel Boedker despite Saros’ strongest play yet sprawling to make many saves before eventually conceding a goal that barely trickled into the back of the net. 3-3 deadlock.
Both teams wanted it. Many trips to the box, a 5 on 3 for the Predators in what would be 11 penalties combined. Nashville took the lead again off a hard five hole shot by folically gifted defenseman Ryan “Beardicus” Ellis. 4-3 Preds.
San Jose got another big scramble that spelled confusion on both sides of the ice led to Ryan Ellis knocking the net off its moorings. At this point, San Jose had pulled Jones to get the extra attacker on the ice and what could have been a 6 on 3, but instead, Logan Couture was awarded a penalty shot. Saros was able to turn away the penalty shot remaining disciplined with his stick to cover the 5 hole and then sent it just by the right post to the jubilant bliss of the seventh man.
The stress officially subsided after the empty netter was buried by Nick Bonino off a great steal by Filip Forsberg. 5-3 Preds. Put it in the books.
As I said before, this was a historic game for the Predators. Fans tonight witnessed an instant classic for many reasons. Saros best play as a goaltender for sure, I thought it was a slight risk to start him against a team as scrappy and dangerous as the Sharks, but he did a phenomenal job. It’s obvious he is learning from Peks, he made so many Rinne-like saves. 39 of 42 shots saved.
How was he not the first star of the game? Arvi had a great game too, but this was Juuse’s night.
The penalty shot also adds a mystique to the game, just a one on one with a skater and a goaltender. Saros has struggled in shootouts, so to see him come strong off the sharp shooting Logan Couture was comforting.
Thirdly, this was a playoff game. Not technically, but in spirit. Both these teams have known their postseason fate for a while now, but they fought like they wanted something out of the deal. The very same intensity as the Western Semifinals two years ago. And possibly a preview to come, no dodging this bullet. San Jose will probably meet us for a postseason joust.
But first, the rest of the season. Buffalo is next.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey