The Nashville Predators ended a frustrating first half of the season with an emphatic bang, one they hope will serve as a springboard to improvement.
The second half begins Thursday night when the Boston Bruins arrive at Bridgestone Arena for the teams’ first meeting of the year. Boston is eager to cap an already successful road trip on a high note.
The Bruins (22-17-5) are coming off a 5-3 win Tuesday night in St. Louis that improved their record to 2-0-1 on a four-game journey. Boston led 4-0 just 1:31 into the second period, the Bruins wound up outshooting the Blues 39-17 as Brad Marchand tallied twice.
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Meanwhile, Nashville (18-16-7) won in the most dramatic fashion imaginable Tuesday night. Calle Jarnkrok scored the first overtime short-handed goal in franchise history at 4:58, delivering a stunning 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
“We found a way to win in OT,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette, whose team was 1-7 prior to Tuesday night in games decided past regulation. “Hopefully, we can learn something from this. OT is weird. They get a penalty and go on the power play but we scored the game-winner.”
The result was just Nashville’s third win in its past 11 home games, a big reason why the team is just 7-8-4 since Dec. 3 and currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture.
However, the Predators continue to battle injuries in addition to inconsistency. They skated without All-Stars P.K. Subban (upper body) and James Neal (upper body) on Tuesday night, as well as Colin Wilson (lower body). Viktor Arvidsson returned Tuesday from a two-game absence caused by an upper-body injury, but he was not part of practice on Wednesday, raising concerns about his availability for the Boston game.
With so many injuries to deal with, Nashville is plugging third- and fourth-liners into bigger roles. One taking advantage of additional ice time is the bruising Austin Watson, who has scored goals in consecutive games while supplying good defense and a physical presence.
“He’s been playing fast, playing physical for us,” Laviolette said of Watson. “He’s been chipping in on offense. He’s been going to the hard areas in the paint where you score goals.”
Watson’s marker against Vancouver was a classic example. He worked his way to the net’s front and was in prime position to collect the rebound of Mike Fisher’s errant point shot for a goal 35 seconds into the second period.
If the Predators are to win their final home game before a five-game trip, they probably will need more than two goals against Boston. Led by Marchand’s 15 goals and 23 assists, and David Pastrnak’s 19 goals, the Bruins can explode in any game despite averaging just under 2.5 goals per game.
“I think the guys are really buying into trying to play hard here,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “There’s a lot of pride in our dressing room, and we just got to keep showing it.”
Julien’s biggest concern going into this one is injuries to his defense corps. Adam McQuaid (upper body) and Colin Miller (lower body) were knocked out in the third period at St. Louis, leaving the Bruins with just four defensemen. McQuaid could play Thursday night, but Miller is doubtful.