It didn’t get much uglier than the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
With 13 seconds left in regulation Radek Bonk skated out from behind the net and backhanded a shot that bounced into the net off the backside of Jerred Smithson, who was on his side on the ice.
“I’m not going to lie,” Smithson said. “I didn’t even know it went off of me until Bonk told me. The last two games I have just been driving the net and have been lucky enough to get goals.”
The Predators have won back-to-back games after losing six in a row.
It was a testament to the play of the line of Smithson, Bonk and Jed Ortmeyer, who were on the ice in the final minute of the game.
“Smithson’s goal doesn’t go in the net if we aren’t driving the net,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “They are all three big guys out there. They did a great job defensively against Florida against every line they faced. They were going to the hard areas and paying the price.”
The philosophy of the Predators this season has been to score ugly. It was an approach to the game they got away from during their six-game losing streak.
“It was nice to see our guys play well,” Predators goaltender Dan Ellis said. “The losing streak was a morale killer. We have learned what we need to do. You can win six in a row just as easy as we lost six in a row.”
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the first period. Nashville’s Greg Zanon dove too deep to help Ellis stop a flurry of shots and was ruled to have covered the puck with his hand in the crease. Jozef Stumpel took the penalty shot for the Panthers, beating Ellis to his glove side with 9:46 remaining. It was the first penalty shot Ellis had faced in the NHL.
In the second period, Vernon Fiddler beat Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun from short range at 3:21 to tie the game, his first of two goals.
The Predators took a 2-1 lead when Bonk shot the puck between Vokoun’s legs from in front of the crease with 9:22 remaining in the second.
Florida tied the game with 47 seconds left in the second period.
Working on the power play, Ollli Jokinen shot a one-timer from just inside the blue line that bounced off of the pads of Ellis. Jokinen took control of the rebound and fired a slap shot from low in the left circle that went between the right shoulder and elbow of Ellis.
“It was a great shot by Jokinen off of the rebound,” Ellis said. “I didn’t get across quick enough.”
Fiddler gave the Predators a 3-2 lead at 3:03 of the third period Alexander Radulov skated low in the slot and passed the puck to his right to Fiddler, who took his shot from the edge of the crease and caught Vokoun out of position.
Jokinen, working with a five-on-three power play, scored his second goal of the game 9:31 into the third period to tie the game 3-3.
“They really should score a goal in a five-on-three situation,” Ellis said. “They are always tricky. The team on the power play has so many options.”
Ellis made his second start in a row for the Predators. He has won both games. There has been talk of rotating Ellis and starter Chris Mason since training camp, but Trotz was noncommittal over what he might do in the next game.
“Danny has made a good start, but he still has a ways to go to prove he is an NHL goalie,” Trotz said. “He has made a good case for himself.”
The Predators held a 33-27 advantage in shots on goal.
Vokoun, making his first Nashville appearance since being traded to Florida, was recognized by the Predators during the first period with a video montage. He received an extended standing ovation from the crowd for his eight seasons in net for the Predators.
It was still a disappointing evening for Vokoun.
“I don’t what the reason is for why this is happening,” Vokoun said. “We basically give away games night after night. There was no way their guy should have entered our zone that late in the game. We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot at the worst possible times.”
Notes: Nashville recalled Rich Peverley from Milwaukee of the AHL to replace Darcy Hordichuk, who is out for one-to-two weeks with a broken toe. This was the second of back-to-back games for Florida. Vokoun earned an assist on Jokinen’s second period goal. Nashville’s Jason Arnott earned his 400th career assist on Fiddler’s second goal. Jokinen also scored the 400th point of his career.