Even the most vocal critics of shootouts, those who dismiss the tiebreaking procedure as contrived and gimmicky, would have a hard time saying it was not worthwhile in this case.
How else to settle an unrelenting display of checking between the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild then finally to remove all defensive obstacles and allow skaters to go one-on-one with the goalies?
Even then, the chances were chellenging. Two of Minnesota’s three shooters failed to get the puck on net and goalie Pekka Rinne stopped the one who did. That was how the Predators finally recorded a 2-1 victory Wednesday before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
“It was a very intense game,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Sometimes when there’s all these goals, it’s not really that … intense. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain but [Wednesday] night you couldn’t take a shift off because it could end up the back of your net.
“When it’s a one-goal game, you have to be very careful that way.”
The only conversion for either team came when Colin Wilson drove the net with speed and lifted a backhand shot up under the crossbar. That was enough for Nashville to win for the second time in three ties this season at the last-ditch tiebreaker.
“It felt a little weird not having at least two guys in my face when I’m trying to make a move,” Wilson said. “… As soon as you’re in the offensive end they’re in your face. There’s not too much room to make plays, but I think we made the best of it.”
Neither team got a goal until Jordin Tootoo redirected a Jonathon Blum shot and put the Predators up 1-0 with 13 minutes to play in regulation. That advantage lasted just over nine minutes before Minnesota’s Dany Heatley got the equalizer out of a scrambled play around the Nashville net.
Overall, it was exactly what was expected against the Wild, who rank among the league’s top five in goals-against per game and the bottom five in goals scored per game.
“We knew the style of game they played with how they play in their own zone,” center Jerred Smithson said. “We knew we had to keep it tight ourselves. … We wanted to, maybe, take a little bit of a page out of their book, just play tight [defense] and grind it out. That’s what it was — it was a hard-fought battle by both teams.”
The sequence of events was similar to a 2-1 Predators’ shootout victory over St. Louis 11 days earlier. They broke a scoreless tie in the third period, surrendered a goal a short time later and then won it in the shootout.
Since then, they had lost three of four in games that averaged a total of eight goals apiece.
“This has to become our style, I think, if we’re going to be successful,” Suter said. “We can’t give up as many chances as we have been [since the start of the season]. We have to bear down and be better defensively.”
Minnesota lost for the eighth straight time (three have been in shootouts) and scored two or fewer for the seventh time in that stretch.
“You had two sort of desperate teams playing,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They’ve gone through some hard times here and we knew they were going to be desperate.
“It’s what we expected. We knew it was going to be close.”
Close enough that it required unconventional means to determine a winner, like it or not.
• Gabriel Bourque became the second Nashville player in as many games and the third in the last five weeks to make his NHL debut. He logged just 8:05 of ice time and did not have a shot or a point.
“I played with him a little bit in training camp so I knew his game,” Smithson, who centered Bourque’s line, said. “He’s just a hard-working guys who can skate and get in on the forecheck. I thought he did great out there for the first game.”
The 21-year-old forward was recalled Tuesday. In 25 games this season (his second as a professional) at Milwaukee, he had a team-high 14 assists, including three in a 7-3 victory. A fifth-round pick in 2009 he had 18 goals and 18 assists as an AHL rookie in 2010-11.
Defensemen Roman Josi (Nov. 26) and Ryan Ellis (Monday) also played their first NHL games recently.
• Wednesday’s game was the last of nine at home during December. The Predators went 6-3-0 in those contests.
Nashville had 10 home games in October and November combined and was 4-3-3.
“At the start of the month we didn’t have a real great record in our building,” Trotz said. “We’ve started chipping away at it. You’re going to have to have good home record in this conference.”