PREDATORS 3, PANTHERS 0
NASHVILLE – Thanks to a scheduling quirk, the Panthers and Predators play each other more often than most teams from opposing conferences, but not enough to garner any bad blood between the two teams.
Truthfully, the franchises have almost as many trades between them as games played over the past few years.
Yet they put on quite an entertaining show on Saturday night. At least during the first period, anyway.
The two teams got into three good altercations within the first 20 minutes but the Predators got the last laugh as the two goals they scored within that period was enough to lift them to a 3-0 victory at Bridgestone Arena.
“No, there's no hatred there,'' said Mike Santorelli, traded to Florida from Nashville over the summer. “That was just two teams really going for it. We both wanted to win. That's all that was.''
Florida once again failed to get a four-game winning streak going under coach Pete DeBoer as the Preds handed the Panthers their fifth loss in seven games in Nashville since Florida last won here in 2000. The Predators have won five of their past six games going into Monday's home date with the Islanders.
The Panthers haven't won four straight since they won seven consecutive during the end of Jacques Martin's final season as the team's coach in 2008.
After Ryan Suter scored the opening goal on Nashville's first shot 1:14 into the game, goalie Tomas Vokoun – traded from Nashville to the Panthers in 2007 -- went behind his net to play the puck. Nashville pest Jordin Tootoo skated in front of the Florida goalie and Vokoun gave him a bump – then reached out with his stick and yanked Tootoo to the ice after hooking him like a Tarpon.
A few minutes later, Tootoo put a vicious hit on Florida winger Michael Frolik up against the boards and captain Bryan McCabe retaliated by pulling Tootoo down by his collar before putting fists to face while both were sprawled on the ice. The two players each received penalties for 'roughing.'
Later in the period, play stopped after Kenndal McArdle was called for the first of three penalties (this one for holding); during the timeout, Nashville's Steve Sullivan smacked former teammate Darcy Hordichuk in the face with his stick.
"When you play for a few teams, you have friends all over,'' Hordichuk said with a smile.
Nashville took a 2-0 lead not long after that when captain Shea Weber sliced a shot past Vokoun from the right circle on the Predators' sixth shot of the evening. Joel Ward scored the final goal with 53.4 seconds left on Nashville's 27th shot – into a net Vokoun already vacated.
“It was a physical game and the first period was the game,'' DeBoer said. “They got a couple of big hits, a couple of big goals. That's a tough team to come from behind against. They close you off, don't give you much. We battled to the buzzer, but it was too little, too late. That's not a team you can spot two goals.''
-- Former Panthers enforcer Wade Belak, whom Martin traded to Nashville on Thanksgiving Day in 2008 for Nick Tarnasky, was a healthy scratch for the 15th straight game. Belak has played in just four games this season.
The Panthers planned to hold a practice in Coral Springs on Sunday despite landing in Fort Lauderdale early that morning. DeBoer's reasoning is he doesn't want his players to have two straight days off the ice.
With the entire team and coaching staff participating in Monday's charity golf tournament at Heron Bay, if they don't practice Sunday, they wouldn't be back on the ice until Tuesday.
“We're not going to take two days off,'' DeBoer said. “I don't think we can, we have a young team. I saw something that Colorado is 8-1 with one day rest and 3-5 with two days. That's a sign of a young team not handling rest properly. You have to look at your team and decide. We need to get a sweat going [Sunday] if we're going to take Monday off.''
-- Defenseman Mike Weaver didn't get his name on the score sheet on Thursday night, but he was still selected the 'Third Star' of that game after his play was instrumental in Florida killing off all eight of Washington's power play chances. Florida won 3-0 against the Capitals.
“I was shocked,'' Weaver said. “Don't you usually have to score a goal? Or have an assist?''
-- Florida's penalty killing units were strong again on Saturday as the Panthers killed off three of Nashville's four chances when playing with the advantage and have now been successful on 24 of their past 26 kills (Saturday's goal was on an empty net).
Florida's power play, of course, has been a sore spot all season as the Panthers are on pace to not only set the franchise record for fewest goals with the advantage but could have one of the lowest goal totals in the league's modern era.
The Panthers have scored three goals on their past 55 power play chances and have just eight power play goals all season.
“When we stay out of the box, we're a tough team,'' DeBoer said, noting Florida's success on even-strength this season. “When we keep our feet moving, have four lines rolling and have the puck, we're a much better team. With our power play, we don't want to be trading chances with anyone.''