Francis Bouillon said no one gave him grief when he went 87 straight games without a goal. Except his kids, that is.
Since then, the 36-year-old defenseman has scored four times in 13 games, the latest a critical tally in Thursday’s 2-0 victory over the Dallas Stars before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Each one has elicited a child-like reaction from his teammates and coaches.
“Frankie is one of the favorite guys,” coach Barry Trotz said. “So when he scores it’s always a … joyous type of bench.”
Bouillon’s goal at 4:28 of the third period not only broke a scoreless tie, it broke open what was a tight defensive struggle through the first two-plus periods. Nashville and Dallas combined for 33 shots over the first two periods, but unloaded 26 more (14 by the Predators and 12 by the Stars) over the final 20 minutes.
Dallas’ desperation to get an equalizer created additional chances for Nashville, and Patric Hornqvist finally took advantage of one and scored his team-leading 26th goal with two minutes remaining. Pekka Rinne made 28 saves for his fifth shutout of the season two days after he was scratched because of an illness.
The victory guaranteed that the Predators would finish the regular season no worse than fifth in the Western Conference standings. Combined with Detroit’s 2-1 loss against New Jersey, it meant that they need only to force overtime and earn a point in the Saturday’s finale at Colorado in order to finish fourth and earn home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
Dallas, with its fourth straight loss, was eliminated from playoff contention.
“I think you could see the way both teams were playing,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. “There was nothing too crazy. The teams weren’t taking a whole lot of chances. It was almost like we were feeling each other out and waiting for the other team to make the first mistake.
“After we got the lead, they had to push.”
Bouillon’s latest goal (he’s now one short of his career-high for a season) came when he beat teammate Andei Kostitsyn to the rebound of a Hornqvist wrap-around attempt. His backhand swipe lifted the puck past goalie Kari Lehtonen and into the net.
It was his second straight game-winner (the Predators have won all four in which he has scored), which is at least one more than he had in any of his previous 11 NHL seasons. He also got the decisive tally seven days earlier against Detroit, the Predators’ most likely first-round playoff opponent.
“You’ve got to be smart, and it’s a little bit of luck too,” he said “I [am taking] a little bit more chances than I used to when I was younger. I like to be involved a little more offensively. But at the same time the defensive zone is the number one priority.
“It is nice to put your name on the scoresheet once in a while.”
Bouillon had four goals — all on the road — in 125 games for Nashville over the previous two seasons and did not get his first of this one until March 12 at Phoenix. He followed with ones at Chicago on March 25 and the one at Detroit seven days earlier.
This was his first for the Predators on home ice.
“We’ve had him for a while now and you know he’s good with the puck,” Weber said. “I think he’s just finding his way into the right areas and things are going well. Hopefully he continues to do that.
“He doesn’t get a lot of recognition at time, but he plays physical for a small guy, shuts guys down and it’s good to see him get his recognition.”
Plus, he doesn’t have to hear any grief from his children.