Tuesday night as the Nashville Predators took to the ice at TD Garden in Boston against the Boston Bruins, it was clear their game Monday night against the New York Islanders, whom they beat, followed by travel to Massachusetts had left the team with a bit of fatigue. The Predators came into the game riding a four-game winning streak, but 2:28 into the period Patrice Bergeron potted a rebound that Pekka Rinne certainly would have liked to have back. During that first period Nashville was only able to put six shots on net and Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask made sure they didn’t go in.
By the time the whistle signaled the end of the first twenty, Nashville was in a two-goal hole. Their sluggishness spoke to where the team was in the season and accentuated the grueling toll of back-to-back games. The one positive they could perhaps hold onto was the fact that throughout the season they had become one of the strongest teams during the middle frame—scoring the most goals in that period of any NHL team.
“You know, we made mistakes early on and gave them the lead,” Nashville’s head coach Peter Laviolette said after the game. “From there, we’re chasing the game. I thought we got better as [the game] went on, but I thought they jumped us in the first.”
Despite getting off to a much stronger game during the second period, outshooting the team in black and gold, as well as beating them in the faceoff, the Predators could not seem to solve Rask. However, it was clear throughout that period that the momentum was clearly with Nashville’s players.
“While we were in the offensive zone we had more attempts. Not all of them got through, but we just had some zone time, some shots, some attempts. We had some big saves,” Laviolette continued. “Could have swung, you know, to 2-1 at any point, and I thought their chances were very limited after the first period, and [we] just couldn’t bury it. Couldn’t get it to 2-1. Eventually did, but then we made a mistake.”
It was 11:16 into the third period before Craig Smith was able to get an ugly one past Rask, after Nashville had had some mounting zone time and a good number of shots on goal leading up to the marker.
The mistake that Laviolette referred to happened about four and a half minutes after Smith cut the Bruins lead in half. Having got caught deep in the Bruins offensive zone, a pass didn’t connect with the stick of P.K. Subban, who continued to get booed in Boston despite no longer wearing the colors of the Canadiens. And just like that the Bruins had a 3-on-1 rush up the other way that managed to beat Rinne on the glove side. An empty netter a couple of minutes later for the Bruins would seal the deal.
“I think we started putting pucks behind their defense, started to shoot the puck more trying to create traffic and a lot of times when you try to shoot the puck that’s going to create more zone time and maybe some penalties, and I thought after that the guys did a really good job,” Rinne said of his view of the game.
The Predators flew home Tuesday night and had Wednesday to rest their bodies and their minds. They will face their third Eastern Conference team in a row, as they host a hot Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice Thursday night.
And while certainly it’s important to give their bodies a break, wiping their minds of a loss is just as important.
“It’s really important, I mean, just having that fresh mind. It’s so much mental, I mean, everybody’s such a good player and it’s a good level of hockey, so I think the difference a lot of times is inside your head,” Rinne shared about their day off on Wednesday. “You know who is willing to push the extra mile or somebody who is going to stay calm and things like that. So, yeah it is really important to be mentally fresh.”
They aren’t kidding themselves though. They know what Toronto has been doing, and Nashville is expecting to see a hungry team hit the ice Thursday night. Of course, there are a couple of Eastern Conference teams that are hoping the Predators can put a checkmark in the win column, holding back the Leafs climb in the standings.