RALEIGH, N.C. – Martin Erat and the Nashville Predators are accumulating shootout games in a hurry. Of course, the way regulation was going, it’s been a welcome change.
Erat and Cal O’Reilly scored in Nashville’s third shootout win in the past five games, leading the Predators to a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
“Whatever it takes,” coach Barry Trotz said.
Nashville has won four of five overall. The surge follows a five-game losing streak, when each game ended in regulation.
“It wasn’t one thing,” Trotz said. “We got away a little bit from the defensive game we like to play, and the puck was getting in the back of our net. We weren’t playing that poorly. Sometimes, teams go through that. They were working hard, but it was not coming easy.”
After O’Reilly matched Carolina’s Jeff Skinner in the first round of the shootout, each team failed on its second opportunity. Patrick O’Sullivan missed for the Hurricanes, setting up Erat’s winner against goaltender Cam Ward.
“I knew what I was going to do before I got on the ice,” Erat said. “Ward was putting the blocker down, and I just had to go to the forehand.”
It was the second consecutive shootout loss for Carolina in as many nights after a 5-4 setback at Pittsburgh.
“We did the best we could with what we had in the tank,” Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. “There was a lot of ugliness in the game—plays that couldn’t be completed—there was no ease to it, but I thought we accepted it and fought it.”
Surprisingly, this one featured very little scoring. It’s unlikely any team has been as inconsistent as the Hurricanes, who have scored goals in bunches and given them up nearly as frequently. In the previous eight games, three of their victories have been 7-2, 7-1 and 7-1. They also have losses by big margins—7-4, 8-1 and 7-2—to complete the odd rotation of games.
“This was our third game in four nights,” Ward said. “So the pace was pretty slow at the beginning of the game. That’s kind of the style they wanted to play.”
Carolina scored first when Joni Pitkanen skated in and sent a centring pass from the right circle toward Erik Cole. The puck bounced off the stick of Nashville defenceman Shane O’Brien and skittered through goaltender Pekka Rinne midway through the first period.
Given the Hurricanes’ offensive bursts of late, it figured to be the first of many. But Nashville struck next.
A poor Carolina clearing effort left the puck with Jordin Tootoo near the blue line. With four Hurricanes closing in, he found teammate Jerred Smithson all alone in front of the net. He patiently beat Cam Ward with a wrister to tie it at 1.
“Smithson’s line really did a good job,” Trotz said. “I think they were dominant out there. They spent a lot of time in the opponent’s end and they got a big goal. They really deserved that.”
Rinne finished with 21 saves while Ward had 26 stops.
NOTES: Nashville plays at Columbus on Monday to complete a four-game road trip.