Predators can’t find way to put puck past Canucks’ Lack
Nicklas Jensen probably won’t be sent back to the minors anytime soon.
Jensen boosted Vancouver’s flickering playoff hopes Wednesday night, scoring the Canucks’ first goal in a 2-0 victory over the Nashville Predators.
It was Jensen’s third goal in four games — and the third of his NHL career. The Danish rookie has played in only seven games this season since being promoted from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League because of injuries to forwards Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
"It’s huge," Jensen said. "It’s tough to know what to expect when you get up here."
Eddie Lack made 30 saves, and Jensen and Alex Edler scored 1:13 apart in the third period.
The Canucks posted their fourth win in seven games but remained in 10th place in the Western Conference while pulling within three points of eighth-place Phoenix. Vancouver stayed a point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, who beat Colorado.
Nashville is in 12th place, five points behind the Jets.
Lack earned his fourth shutout of the season, tops among NHL rookies, even though the Predators enjoyed a 30-22 edge in shots.
"I’m the first one to say I haven’t got to my best games so far and it feels good coming out with a shutout tonight for sure," said Lack, who has inherited the No. 1 role following Roberto Luongo’s trade to Florida.
Jensen finally opened the scoring at 6:06 of the third when he picked up a loose puck while Nashville defenseman Seth Jones was checking Henrik Sedin and roofed a shot over goalie Carter Hutton’s outstretched glove.
"Henrik got the puck," Jensen said. "It was kind of scrambling and bobbling on his stick and somehow he found a way to slide it over to me, and I just tried to release it and put it on net.
"The guy can do a lot of things a lot of guys can’t do. That’s also why he’s so unique and one of the best players in the world," he added. "When I came up here and heard that I could play with him, I knew I was going to be ready."
The 21-year-old Jensen, Vancouver’s top draft choice (29th overall) in 2011, is succeeding at the NHL level in his first full season in North America. He was returned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals after he was drafted, then split last season between a Swedish team and Vancouver’s former Chicago Wolves AHL affiliate. Along the way, he has battled injuries and inconsistency.
But he is proving to be a quick offensive study, with only nine NHL games under his skates, after dressing for two last season. He also is impressing Canucks coach John Tortorella with his two-way play.
"For a young guy, his positioning with the puck and without the puck, it’s really good," Tortorella said.
The demanding coach said Jensen has thrived after starting slowly following his promotion.
"I heard him say something where he really struggled early on, which he did, and then he just started getting some puck luck after that, and it just relaxed him," Tortorella said. "He doesn’t think about it. He just plays."
Edler gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead on a power play as he slid a slap shot between Hutton’s outstretched leg and the right post. The goal came only 5 seconds after Nashville defenseman Victor Bartley was penalized for interference. The puck went in while the infraction was being announced over the public address system.
The Canucks were back home after a four-game road trip. The Predators completed their third straight set of back-to-back games within nine days.
Accordingly, neither team could muster a goal in the first two periods.
"I thought it was a pretty even game," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Both teams had some looks and we’re just not scoring easy right now."
Lack denied Gabriel Bourque from close range following an odd-man rush. Near the end of the period, Lack stopped Patric Hornqvist twice on one-timers within a few seconds of each other.
The Predators were shut out for the ninth time this season as their playoff hopes grew dimmer.
"We’ve got to get some goals for our goaltender," Trotz said.
Notes: The Canucks lost Alex Burrows after Jensen’s goal. He appeared to be slashed on the left hand by Predators captain Shea Weber as the puck went in. Burrows’ glove came off on the play. … Nashville center Paul Gaustad was injured when Edler fell on him in the first period. Gaustad went to the dressing room and did not return. … Tortorella said defenseman Chris Tanev will be out three to four weeks with a broken finger sustained while blocking a shot Monday in Tampa Bay. If the Canucks miss the playoffs, he could be done for the season. No updates were given on Kesler and Daniel Sedin, who remain out indefinitely with undisclosed ailments. … Canucks center Brad Richardson returned after missing seven games with an upper-body injury.