There is any number of things the Nashville Predators can learn from Thursday’s 5-4 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
One might be the most important.
“There’s a time to be selfish,” coach Barry Trotz said.
In a critical matchup between the teams in seventh (Nashville) and eighth place (Anaheim) in the Western Conference at the start of the day, the Predators had things well in hand almost from the start. At the finish, though, they hung on for dear life as they endured three goals against in the final 11 minutes, two of them while playing two men down.
Presented with a couple opportunities to halt the building drama, they passed — literally. In particular, David Legwand opted not to shoot at an open net twice in the closing minutes. Instead, he tried to set up Sergei Kostitsyn, who was one goal from a hat trick.
It was a development that seemed even more unlikely given that Legwand has accounted for three of Nashville’s last four empty-net scores.
“It’s not the time of year or the team you want to do that against,” Trotz said. “We have to manage the game. The game was still a little bit in doubt.
“… All the personal stuff goes out the window. We go for the win.”
Likewise, the playoff picture remains one of uncertainty, but with five straight victories and seven in their last eight, the Predators have taken firm control of their own situation. They put themselves three points ahead of Anaheim, which remained in eighth place, and four points in front of ninth-place Dallas, which comes to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday.
“Obviously, playing against Anaheim and the next game against Dallas — these games are huge,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Especially, against Anaheim, it was nice to get that win.”
Then again, if this game, played before the 14th sellout crowd at home this season, was any indication of what this team does when it’s in control, the remaining two-plus weeks of the season could be plenty entertaining.
Kostitsyn helped stake Nashville to a 3-0 lead when he scored twice (the first and third goals) in a little more than nine minutes in the first period against goalie Jonas Hiller, who quickly was pulled in favor for former Predator Dan Ellis.
The first signs of trouble surfaced during the latter half of that period. A little more than a minute after the Ducks scored their first goal, Nashville defenseman Cody Franson was called for holding. Anaheim got off six shots during resultant power play — some of them particularly dangerous ones — but failed to score.
“It’s next-to-impossible to come back, especially when you have [Rinne] in the net,” Anaheim forward Ryan Getzlaf said. “He is one of the best goalies in the league for a reason. He weathered that storm we brought in the second half of the first period and allowed them to win the hockey game.”
Order was restored in the second. The Predators allowed just five shots and pushed the lead back to three on Jordin Tootoo’s first goal since he returned from personal leave more than a month ago.
Nashville did not commit another penalty until the third. Then, it had five players sent to the box in a span of just more than 10 minutes, but it still managed to push its advantage to four goals when Legwand scored shorthanded.
That’s when things got really interesting. Teemu Selanne scored the two with two-man advantages, and Corey Perry got the Ducks within one when he scored with 27 seconds to play. In fairness, the last two of those goals went in off defenseman Ryan Suter, one off his hand and one off his foot.
“They got a couple of flukey goals, … Suter got two goals,” Trotz said. “It was all the stuff we did. It was taking penalties. It was not managing the puck.
“You can’t let a team off the hook. … To me, we’d better learn from that.”