Chris Driedger posts shutout in first NHL start as Panthers top Predators

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Chris Driedger heard the final horn and reached for his helmet in disbelief. The Florida Panthers goalie hardly expected to post a shutout in his first NHL start.

“Honestly, I’m speechless,” he said.

Driedger stopped all 27 shots filling in for star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and the Panthers beat the Nashville Predators 3-0 Saturday night. It was the 25-year-old’s first appearance for Florida — he had previously appeared in three games for Ottawa between 2014-17 but never started.

Bobrovsky was among the first teammates to congratulate Driedger.

“It was pretty cool coming from a guy like that,” Driedger said. “Props from him, it’s pretty special.”

Anton Stralman scored his first two goals of the season as the Panthers snapped a three-game losing streak.

Driedger was recalled from Springfield of the American Hockey League on Monday after posting an AHL-best .938 save percentage in 14 games.

“It’s pretty surreal,” he said. “I’m cloud-nining right now.”

Aleksander Barkov‘s eighth goal for the Panthers also provided a milestone for Evgenii Dadonov, who recorded his 100th career assist.

Juuse Saros stopped 24 shots for Nashville, which suffered its first loss in regulation in the past five games.

Stralman scored early in the second period, and the 1-0 lead held until he scored again 8:38 into the third. Stralman, a veteran defenseman with just 49 goals in 775 career games, hadn’t scored since last December.

“It’s always fun,” said Stralman, who came into the game with eight assists. “Sometimes it’s just being at the right place at the right time.”

Less than two minutes later, Barkov went top shelf to Saros’ glove side to account for the final margin.

The Panthers’ captain had high praise for Driedger’s performance.

“He was unbelievable,” Barkov said. “He said he was nervous, but he didn’t look like it at all. He was calm in the net and didn’t give them any rebounds.”

Driedger was especially impressive against high-quality chances during three Nashville power plays in the second period.

“His composure was terrific and patient,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “He waited on the pucks and was smooth.”

The Predators’ best opportunity to make a big play offensively came about midway through the first period when Ryan Johansen nearly had a clean breakaway from his own blue line but lost his stick after it hit the skate of a Panthers player.

“Tonight, for me, we were flat,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “You gotta play at a higher tempo and a higher level in order to be successful. If you don’t, you roll the dice and it didn’t go our way.”

NOTES: Panthers D MacKenzie Weegar returned after an upper-body injury sidelined him for the past eight games. … Florida also won the first meeting between the teams in October, 3-2 in a shootout in Nashville. … Stralman’s two-goal effort was the fourth of his career.

UP NEXT

Predators: Host Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.

Panthers: Host Minnesota on Tuesday night.