NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nashville coach Barry Trotz insists he knew nothing of Detroit’s loss just as his Predators went into the third period needing a win of their own to grab back the chance of landing home-ice advantage to start the playoffs.
His Predators sure responded as if they did.
Pekka Rinne made 28 saves for his fifth shutout of the season, Francis Bouillon scored at 4:28 of the third period, and the Predators beat the Dallas Stars 2-0 on Thursday night for their third win in four games.
With the win and Detroit’s 2-1 home loss to New Jersey, Nashville moved back into fourth in the Western Conference, a point a head of the Red Wings. Now the Predators need only wrap up the regular season Saturday night at Colorado with a win to start the playoffs at home and finish ahead of Detroit for the first time in franchise history.
“We were just worried about winning the game and see if they could put it back in our court,” Trotz said. “We knew, as a coach, obviously we knew they had a real hard game in St. Louis. We were just hoping New Jersey would give us the honours of giving us a chance to be home ice, so we’ve got to go in there and see if we can get it.”
Patric Hornqvist had an assist and clinched the win with a goal with 2 minutes left. The Predators could know their standing before taking the ice against Colorado because Detroit hosts Chicago on Saturday afternoon.
“The Saturday night game is going to be huge for us,” Hornqvist said. “We were great at home and have been all year. I’m looking forward to Saturday night and I hope we can get a big win and start at home.”
The Stars lost their fourth straight in being eliminated. The Stars came in ninth and needed at least a point, but the loss allowed Los Angeles and Phoenix to clinch berths and put San Jose on the verge the Sharks clinched later Thursday night when Colorado lost to Columbus.
“We just didn’t get the result we wanted, but we played hard,” Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said. “I liked the way we competed. It was a one goal game, really who could get that one in? They managed to do so.”
Rinne was back in net for Nashville after sitting out Tuesday night’s shootout win against Minnesota with an illness, and he got his NHL-leading 43rd victory by stopping 12 shots in the third. It also was Nashville’s first shutout since Jan. 19 when they beat Columbus 3-0 on the road.
“Peks was really good,” Trotz said. “I was just worried. Anytime you get sick and the way he was it can really drain you. He responded good.”
Rinne had plenty of help too. The Predators blocked 23 shots with defencemen Shea Weber, Kevin Klein and Ryan Suter blocking four apiece. Rinne credited his teammates with doing a great job and was glad to start again after being scratched Tuesday night.
“You always have a little bit of nerves, butterflies in your stomach going into the game when you’ve been sick or not feeling great the last few days,” Rinne said. “It was good to get the win and get back in there.”
Kari Lehtonen stopped 29 shots in trying to keep Dallas alive. After Hornqvist’s goal, Gulutzan took his timeout with 1:29 to go, pulled Lehtonen a few seconds later and then got the man advantage when Mike Fisher put the puck over the glass with 55 seconds left.
“The reason we’re battling for a playoff spot in the last three games is certainly because of Kari. He’s the one who got us here,” Gulutzan said.
Dallas played with much more desperation early against Nashville’s 25th sellout crowd this season in the Predators’ home finale. Nashville even had Ricky Skaggs playing with the house band for bit of a playoff-atmosphere preview, but the Predators wound up chasing the puck much more often than shooting.
The Stars even had four power plays only to see Nashville kill them all off.
“This time of year, teams are playing so desperate in that playoff mode, and (Nashville) is certainly in that,” Stars left wing Brendan Morrow said. “They have a big goalie that stops what he sees.”
When they did have chances, Lehtonen swatted them away. He came in 14-9-2 on the road this season a win away from a career-high this season and played well trying to give the Stars a chance.
This was the fourth game this season that Nashville went through the first two periods scoreless, and the Predators have won all four. They got the goal they needed shortly after Detroit’s loss. Bouillon scored his fourth this season on a backhander from in front off a rebound of Hornqvist’s shot, just beating Andrei Kostitsyn to the puck.
Lehtonen stopped a 3-on-1 a couple minutes before Hornqvist padded the lead with a wrister past the goalie’s glove.
Notes: Bouillon’s goal was his fourth this season and all four have come in the past 13 games for the defenceman. … Nashville improved to 34-3-4 when scoring first. … Nashville has 230 goals, tying the 2007-08 team for third-most in franchise history. … Nashville evened the season series against Dallas 2-2. … Hornqvist has 79 career goals. … The sellout was Nashville’s eighth straight. … Rinne has 25 shutouts in 249 games.