Predators start hot, hold off Capitals to clinch playoff spot

 

Filip Forsberg projected as a future star for the Capitals before he was traded to the Predators in 2013. Nashville’s Calder Trophy candidate came up big in his first time playing in Washington.

Forsberg scored during a three-goal first period and had two assists as the Predators became the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff berth with a 4-3 win over the Capitals on Saturday.

Mattias Ekholm, Mike Fisher and Forsberg, a first-round pick by Washington in 2012, scored during a 5-minute span midway through the first period for a 3-0 lead. Mike Ribeiro added a goal against his former team with an assist by Forsberg after Washington’s Troy Brouwer scored twice earlier in the second period.

"It’s always fun to help contribute to a team’s win," Forsberg said, "but it’s a little extra special coming here and playing for the first time."

The Predators have won four straight after losing nine of 11.The Central Division leaders last reached the postseason in 2012 under Barry Trotz, now Washington’s head coach.

Production from their 20-year-old center certainly helped the cause in the latest victory.

"He was awesome, he really was," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said of Forsberg. "I thought he was terrific. He was strong on the puck all night, got his shot off quite a few times. Really good."

Holding the Capitals’ star in check did as well.

Alex Ovechkin went without a goal for the sixth time in seven games. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 47 goals.

Mike Green scored the Capitals’ third goal 20 seconds into the third period.

Washington holds the East’s top wild-card spot, five points ahead of Ottawa and Boston, who were tied for the second and final spot. The Capitals were 4-1 in the previous five games.

"We came in here and we obviously weren’t happy after the first period," Brouwer said. "Guys were upset. We need these points."

The Predators fended off a two-man advantage for 55 seconds in the first period despite playing without All-Star defenseman Shea Weber.

"To me, that took (away) the momentum," said Trotz, who was the longest tenured coach in the NHL when Nashville dismissed him last April after 15 seasons.

Ekholm’s hooking penalty put the Predators in the 5-3 bind, but he countered the mistake with an unassisted goal less than 2 minutes after returning.

Ekholm gathered the puck after Curtis Glencross botched a straightforward clearing attempt for Washington. He deftly placed a backhanded shot past Capitals goalie Braden Holtby for a 1-0 lead 9 minutes into the period.

Fisher’s wrist shot less than 3 minutes later added to the matinee crowd’s discomfort. The frustration rose inside the arena soon after for a variety of reasons.

The Capitals selected Forsberg 11th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft and then traded the center prospect to the Predators the following year.

The rookie assisted on Fisher’s goal and then ripped a slap shot past Holtby for a 3-0 lead with 5:13 remaining in the period.

Trotz immediately pulled Holtby after 13 shots faced for Justin Peters.

Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 23 shots.

Brouwer beat Rinne twice early in the second period including a short-handed score to pull the Capitals to 3-2.

Nashville swept the season series 2-0.

Washington quickly regained momentum upon returning to the ice.

Brouwer’s goal 19 seconds into the second period snapped a personal 12-game drought.

Washington entered Saturday leading the NHL in power-play percentage, but haven’t scored on the advantage in four games.

The Predators defeated the Capitals 4-3 in Nashville on Jan. 16. The second win clinched a playoff berth.

"I always think it’s a little bit more meaningful when you earn the win, you earn the two points and the right to get in," Laviolette said.

NOTES: Weber was considered day-to-day with a lower body injury. … Marcus Johansson had two assists for the Capitals. … Washington heads to New York for a Sunday meeting against the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers. … The Predators host Calgary on Sunday in their final back-to-back matchup of the regular season. … Peters made 13 saves.