The Nashville Predators came into Monday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks with lots of pressure on their shoulders. They were coming off of two straight losses to the Carolina Hurricanes, a series that made many people fear that the team had peaked and would be heading back to reality.
Safe to say they quashed those narratives on Monday night.
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The Predators came out aggressive and sustained their energy level throughout the contest to earn a 5-2 victory at home.
Things were looking a bit hairy at times, as they got into penalty trouble late in the 1st period and gave up an increased amount of defensive zone time and shots as the night progressed.
But none of that took the Predators off of their game, which proved that the relentless squad that turned their season around in March never truly went anywhere.
And with another rock-solid outing from Juuse Saros, the Predators did more than enough to deserve to come out on top.
Here are the top headlines from what was a fun night in Smashville.
Welcome Back, Dutchy!
Matt Duchene played in his second game since returning from injury, and it did not take long for him to make an impact. Just over six minutes in, he got the final touch on a twice-deflected shot to get credited for the game’s first goal.
It was a huge goal not only to set the tone but to give Duchene some much-needed confidence.
As the prized acquisition in the 2019 offseason, Duchene has been frequently labeled as the whipping boy for this team’s underperformance. It has been so bad that some people did not even want him back in the lineup once he returned to full health.
But I think we can agree that he has earned his spot back in the lineup. In addition to the goal on Monday night, his forechecking contributed to the Predators’ lone goal on Saturday night in Carolina, even if he did not get the point to show for it.
Talk about the “Duchene curse” all you want, but it is clear that him being out of the lineup was not the reason the Predators got hot. It was a team effort to get back in the right direction, and everyone, including Duchene, has benefitted.
Building And Shifting Momentum
For as good of a 1st period as the Predators had, they lost their momentum at the end due to penalties and a Blackhawks power-play goal. It was imperative that they use the intermission to their advantage and regain control of the game, and man did they deliver.
Some hard work down low resulted in a goal for Calle Jarnkrok less than five minutes into the 2nd period, and a huge defensive play by Mattias Ekholm gave him a breakaway, and he buried it just 51 seconds after Jarnkrok’s goal.
Unfortunately, the Predators did not get much more offense in the 2nd period. They gave up another goal, putting the momentum back in the Blackhawks’ favor heading into the second intermission.
But once again, the Predators would not be deterred, as they found the back of the net just 23 seconds into the 3rd period. Tanner Jeannot, who has played inspired hockey since coming into the lineup, deflected a pass by Ryan Ellis in the slot to give the Predators a 4-2 lead.
These goals are yet another example of how far the Predators have come throughout the season. When they needed goals, they rose to the occasion and then some, and the momentum gained from those sequences fueled the decisive win.
Nashville Predators Must Keep Their Foot On The Gas
This game proved that the series against the Hurricanes never broke the Predators. They were clearly the inferior team in those games, but they were able to bounce back and play with the tenacious identity that they have built for themselves.
The Predators’ tenacity was extremely relieving, but at the same time, in no way should they get comfortable.
While the Predators were able to re-widen the gap between them and the Blackhawks to four points, the Dallas Stars crept up in the standings and overtook the Blackhawks, and now sit in the fifth playoff spot.
The Stars have three games in hand on the Predators, and with their victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night, they are back to within three points.
While the Predators still hold the fourth playoff spot, the Stars have a better point percentage and control their destiny.
The Central Division playoff race is starting to heat up, and the Predators will need to rely on some scoreboard help and their winning ways to earn a trip to the dance. Get it done!