Nashville Predators 1, Pittsburgh Penguins 3
Two goals by Penguins' Niskanen ruin Rinne's return
NASHVILLE -- The Pittsburgh Penguins had yet to win coming out of the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
In two games, the Penguins yielded 10 goals and suffered a thrashing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in a Stadium Series game at Soldier Field on Saturday.
Tuesday against the Nashville Predators, the Penguins got things back in order. Defenseman Matt Niskanen scored two goals, including the game-winner on a power play at 7:29 of the third period, in a 3-1 win that spoiled the return of goalie Pekka Rinne.
Sidney Crosby assisted on each of the three Pittsburgh goals; he leads the NHL with 54 assists and 83 points. The win was the first in four games for Pittsburgh (41-16-4).
"We weren't happy," said Niskanen, who logged a team-high 23:39 of time on ice and was plus-1. "This has been going on for a while. We've had some bad habits creep into our game, and I think we addressed some things and made some adjustments tonight and guys were really focused in. It was good to see. You saw a lot of effort, second-effort-type stuff out there tonight. Guys were really competitive. Good, detailed effort and good road win."
Nashville's David Legwand was whistled for hooking Chris Kunitz at 6:47 of the third period as Legwand attempted to prevent a 3-on-2 by Pittsburgh. Directly preceding Niskanen's game-winner was an odd sequence when Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury skated far out of his crease to prevent a breakaway by Paul Gaustad. The two made glancing contact and the puck popped up in the air. Fleury came up with it and started the breakout that led to Niskanen's slap-shot goal, his ninth of the season.
Fleury said his heart was racing as he and Gaustad reached the puck at the same time, jamming it into the air.
"I thought I could get there maybe a little quicker," said Fleury, who made 18 saves in his NHL-leading 32nd win.
Pittsburgh, owner of the League's top power play, failed to connect on its first two Tuesday, even though it moved the puck well and created good chances. The Penguins finished 1-for-5 with the man-advantage.
"We had a couple of pretty good looks," Niskanen said. "We screwed it up ourselves a couple of times. Just didn't connect on a pass or they pressured us hard on the first couple of power plays. We were able to find some space on the next couple. Had some good looks and got the one we needed at the right time."
The game was the first for Rinne since Oct. 22, when a hip infection sidelined him. Rinne was sharp throughout but no more so than in the first period when he went across the crease to stop Kunitz's bid with his right pad on a 2-on-1 set up by Crosby. He finished with 16 saves.
"It's great to be back," Rinne said. "It was a good way to start the game, but if I get another chance I would like to get at least another one of those goals back and give us a better chance to have a push at the end. We played hard, but the chances they got were on the power plays and, obviously, 5-on-4 is tough."
After Rinne held the Penguins off the board in the first period, Niskanen scored 27 seconds into the second. His slap shot from the right faceoff dot eluded Rinne low to the glove side after Crosby fed him from behind the net.
Nashville tied the game 12 seconds later. Fleury and defenseman Olli Maatta misplayed the puck behind the net, and it ended up coming to the point, where Mike Fisher shot it on goal. Patric Hornqvist put in the rebound for his 12th goal, his second in three games.
The Predators had a goal disallowed with 3:14 to go in the first period following a lengthy review; it was ruled Gaustad kicked it into the net. Forward Nick Spaling, in his first game back after more than a month off with a lower-body injury, outraced Maatta to the puck and his wrist shot bounced off Fleury's chest. Gaustad crashed the net and the puck bounced off his lower right leg over the goal line.
One of the keys for Pittsburgh was holding Nashville's seventh-ranked power play scoreless in four chances. Before the game, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma talked about how it would require courage to block the shot of Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, who has one of the hardest in the NHL. During one power play, Pittsburgh's Tanner Glass, whose stick was broken, twice blocked Weber's shot in quick succession.
Bylsma said three players stood up on the bench in excitement and that Glass' courage provided the team with an emotional lift.
"I thought our [penalty kill] was exceptional," Bylsma said. "We saw Tanner Glass come up with the huge blocks in the first period on Shea Weber. … on probably the hardest shot in the League, taking those. They did a great job."
Glass said he had some lingering stings from the blocks but "nothing too serious."
Kunitz scored his 28th goal with 2:55 remaining.
Nashville (26-26-10; 1-3-2 in its past six) began the day six points behind the Dallas Stars for the final Stanley Cup Playoff wild-card spot in the Western Conference. That margin did not change; the Stars lost 4-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nashville has scored one goal in each of its past two games, regulation losses, and was 0-for-10 combined on the power play.
"I think every game is in itself a microcosm," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "In the Winnipeg game (a 3-1 loss on Saturday), it was [goalie Ondrej Pavelec]. He was fantastic and probably took a couple of goals. Today we hit a couple of posts."