True, the Detroit Red Wings were shorthanded.
Two of their top stars, two who routinely pose significant problems for the Nashville Predators, no less — Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Homlstrom — were out with injuries, as they have been for the last several weeks.
Still, it’s what the Predators did when they were a man — or more — down that was the difference in their 3-0 victory Saturday before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
Nashville’s penalty killers successfully defended four attempts and produced just their third shorthanded goal of the season, one which will live in the highlight reels for years to come. That was enough to snap a four-game losing streak and to give the home team the upper hand (2-1) halfway through the season series with the Central Division’s top team on a day that started with six Western Conference teams trailing the Predators by three points or fewer.
“We were definitely tested, that’s for sure,” center Jerred Smithson said. “They’re a dangerous power play with or without Holmstrom and Datsyuk. They missed those guys but they still had some dangerous weapons out there.
“I thought we stuck with it … and found a way to get it done.”
The biggest test came 44 seconds into the second period, when Patric Hornqvist and Sergei Kostitsysn were whistled for coincidental, yet completely unrelated, violations. Hornqvist was sent off for hooking and Kostitsyn for tripping.
The Predators protected what was at that time a one-goal advantage when they killed off the full two minutes with three shots allowed.
“The guys who were out there did a great job in terms of battling,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “… It was absolutely huge. If they score two goals on that 5-on-3 it’s a totally different game.”
It was on their next penalty, a roughing call against Smithson midway through the second period, that the lead grew to two. Kostitsyn scored with seven seconds to go on Smithson’s penalty when he got position on defenseman Jakub Kindl as he drove the net, shot with just his right hand on the stick and watched the puck roll up the goaltender’s stick and under the crossbar.
Kostitsyn said it was the first time he could recall having scored on a one-handed shot. It also was his first shorthanded goal in three seasons and Nashville’s first in a month.
“We call him ‘The Surgeon’ for a reason,” defenseman Shane O’Brien said. “He keeps surprising us. … He’s one of the most skilled guys on our team.”
Kostitsyn put the game out of reach when he scored with 2:21 to go. It was his fourth multi-point game in the last 15 and gave him 14 goals for the season, two behind the team leader, Hornqvist.
Without two of their point producers, the Red Wings still managed to get 35 shots on on net, including 17 in the final period. None got past goalie Pekka Rinne, though, as Nashville shut out Detroit for just the third time in 72 all-time regular-season matchups.
Datsyuk has 54 points (16 goals, 38 assists) in 51 games against Nashville, and Holmstrom has 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) in 60 career appearances. Datsyuk has missed 19 games with a broken wrist, and Holmstrom has missed eight with a hand injury.
Between them, they had three of their team’s goals in a 5-2 victory over Nashville back on Oct. 30. Holmstrom scored on the power play, the only time in 13 attempts this season Detroit scored with the man-advantage against the Predators.
“We did enough good things to win,” captain Shea Weber said. “I think we still gave up too many chances.”
Plus, it was one of the rare times they did not have to deal with Datsyuk or Holmstrom.
• Steve Sullivan was activated from injured reserve and played for the first time since Dec. 23. He missed 18 games with a groin injury.
He logged just 9:04 of ice time, second lowest among the Predators, but had one of the better scoring chances when, in the second period, he got behind the defense and got the goalie to commit. With a mostly open net at which to shoot, he fired the puck right into the goalie’s glove.
To make room for Sullivan on the roster, center Chris Mueller was reassigned to Milwaukee.
• Weber gave Nashville a 1-0 lead with his 10th goal of the season. It was the 74th of his career, which moved him to within five of Kimmo Timonen’s franchise record for a defenseman.
• Rinne has recorded all three of Nashville’s shutouts against the Red Wings, one in each of the last three seasons. The only other team he has blanked three times is Phoenix.