Wild get another crack at Predators in back-to-back
ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the Nashville Predators, Saturday night’s rematch against the Minnesota Wild cannot come soon enough.
Nashville’s 4-2 loss at Minnesota in Friday’s first game of the back-to-back, home-and-home series between the clubs left the Predators in a sour mood over what could have been.
“We wish we could get right back out there now,” Nashville center Ryan Johansen said after his team’s latest slow start cost them their spot atop the Central Division standings and wasted a strong 34-save effort from goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Rinne hadn’t allowed more than one goal on the road since Nov. 16, a 6-4 loss also at Minnesota.
Friday’s loss, coupled with Winnipeg’s win over the New York Islanders, vaulted the New York Jets past the Predators and into first place by one point in the division race one day after Nashville did the same to St. Louis.
Minnesota held the Predators without a shot until nearly the eight-minute mark of the game and with Nashville already trailing 1-0.
Sluggish starts have been a trend recently for the Predators, who have been outshot 103-52 in their past seven first periods, including 18-9 against Minnesota, which carried a 2-1 lead into the second.
“Mentally and physically you’ve got to be ready for the wars and the battles and we were slow to get out of a hole tonight,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’re not going to win games by giving away first periods.”
Nashville did come back to pepper Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk with 34 shots in the final two periods in Dubnyk’s first game back after a seven-game absence, but a Kyle Turris power-play goal was all Dubnyk would surrender.
“We worked our butts off the last 40 minutes of play … and it was kind of a waste because we weren’t ready to start the game,” Johansen said. “We’ll learn from it tonight and the great thing is we’ll play the same guys tomorrow so we’ll be ready to go.”
Minnesota winger Mikael Granlund, who notched his second career hat trick on Friday, it was less about what Nashville wasn’t doing than what the Wild was.
“I think it was the best start of the year for us,” Granlund said. “It makes it easier the whole game when you have a start like that and put the pressure on early.”
Minnesota sits in the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot and heads to Nashville with consecutive wins over divisional opponents under its belt and a chance to climb into a fourth-place tie with Dallas. The Wild are 13-16-4 at Nashville but have won six times in their past nine trips to Bridgestone Arena.
“I think individually we realize how big this weekend is and it’s really going to count if we follow it up tomorrow,” Minnesota center Eric Staal said. “We were ready to play today. We were hungry for the win, and the biggest key now is to go in their building and do the same thing. It’s going to be a tough test, it’s a tough building to play in, but we should be up for it.”
Despite Dubnyk’s performance, Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau is expected to start Alex Stalock in goal on Saturday. Stalock filled in admirably for Dubnyk going 3-4-0 with a 2.46 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and one shutout in his seven starts.
Stalock is 0-2-0 with a 3.54 GAA and has a 90.3 percent in two career starts against Nashville.
“Right now, the Western Conference is so tight, there’s no games that you can take off,” Dubnyk said. “Nashville is a very tough building to play in, too, so I think we just need to take whatever preparation we had for this game and look at what was working for us and come out with the same game plan tomorrow. It’s about how we play; it’s not about how they play, so it’s important to come back with that.”