In a game that felt nothing like a 2-1 final score, the Nashville Predators completed the season sweep over the Florida Panthers in win No.30 of the season.
It’s been hard to predict what kind of Nashville Predators team you’re going to see on the ice lately thanks to so many roster changes, and yet they just won’t bow out of the playoff race.
After so many trades of key players, it would be understandable if the Predators faded out and began prepping for the long-term future. But while they have certainly shifted to a broader outlook to their future, there is still a desire to win now and not give up on the postseason.
This game against the Panthers didn’t feel anything like a 2-1 game. The Panthers were buzzing all over the zone for most of the game.
Here are the three takeaways as the Nashville Predators sweep the season series over Florida and sit six points behind Winnipeg for the final wildcard spot.
#1: A Little Luck, and Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
The good fortunes definitely favored Nashville in this one. The Panthers piled up 22 high danger chances to the Predators only managing eight. They had plenty of opportunities, but deflected passes along with 28 blocked shots were a huge contributing factor to keeping the Panthers from connecting.
Tyson Barrie made his Predators debut after coming over as part of the Ekholm trade with the Edmonton Oilers. Barrie and McDonagh played as a defensive pairing and had some struggles on the defensive end allowing a 1.214 Expected Goals Against.
Barrie had just under 22 minutes of ice time and got caught on a 3-on-1 Panthers breakaway where he sprawled out to affect the play, but it ended in the lone Panthers goal of the night.
Keeping Matthew Tkachuk, the NHL’s sixth-leading point getter, off the scoresheet is no easy task. He managed three shots on goal, but was largely a non-factor thanks to clamping down in the defensive zone.
There were also plenty of instances where the Panthers were their own worst enemy. Whether that be misplaying the puck, missing the net or missing a pass. Especially in the second period, it was a shocker the Panthers didn’t come away with at least two goals in that period alone.
The two Predators goals, however, were not a product of puck luck. Matt Duchene‘s power play goal was thanks to a faceoff win by Cody Glass and a perfect set-up pass from Luke Evangelista for his first NHL points.
The second goal by the Predators came with just 11 seconds left in the period. It proved the be the difference-maker as John Leonard got his first goal as a member of the Nashville Predators and just the fifth of his NHL career.
#2: Lankinen Delivers While Saros Gets a Rest
This is why Kevin Lankinen was brought in over the past offseason. They knew they couldn’t ride Saros through the ground with 67 starts like they did last season.
Lankinen now has 13 starts on the season and has upped his save percentage to .922 after making 30 saves on 31 shots faced in this one. He had to be sharp, most notably in the onslaught of the second period when the Panthers peppered him with 16 shots.
Lankinen has won four of his last five starts while not giving up more than three goals in any of those games. He is on pace to have career highs in save percentage and GAA and has certainly earned himself a starter’s role somewhere else once he hits free agency this summer.
This is understandably why trade rumors surrounding Saros are getting louder. The growing thought is the Predators can capitalize on Saros’ value and move forward with Lankinen while waiting for Yaroslav Askarov to eventually be ready for full-time NHL duty.
#3: Discipline and Resiliency
A major key going into this game for me was the Predators staying out of the penalty box and not giving a buzzing Panthers team any gift power plays.
The Predators avoided the penalty box in this one, which is so rare. The only other time this season the Predator shave taken zero penalty minutes in a game was a 2-1 overtime win over Anaheim on November 29.
All four of the players the Predators have traded in the last week were key contributors on the penalty kill. Losing the combination of Mattias Ekholm, Tanner Jeannot, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund is going to force this penalty kill to likely take a hit.
The Panthers were right on the doorstep for most of the game to breaking this thing open with multiple goals. Refusing to give them a power play and playing disciplined, but still physical, kept the Panthers at bay.
Four of the next five opponents are well out of the playoff race, giving the Nashville Predators an opportunity to stay afloat and pile up some more points in the standings.
The fanbase is re-energized with all the changes, even at General Manager with Barry Trotz, and if this team somehow still nabs a postseason berth it will feel truly like “Smashville” again.