SUNRISE, Fla. – The Nashville Predators have found a winning combination mixing newly acquired players with their experienced veterans.
Mike Fisher scored early in the second period and Pekka Rinne made 39 saves in the Predators’ 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
Rinne tied Tomas Vokoun for the franchise record for victories in a season with 36.
“So far, it’s so much fun to play,” Rinne said. “We’re coming together as a team. We’ve got a young group of guys and with the few experienced guys, we’re having so much fun.”
David Legwand and Andrei Kostitsyn also scored, and Kostitsyn added an assist to help the Predators win for the fifth time in seven games.
It was the 100th NHL goal for Kostitsyn, who was acquired this week at the trade deadline. Paul Gaustad and Hal Gill, also new additions, assisted on the goal.
“That’s three really good additions to our already good team,” Rinne said.
Wojtek Wolski had the lone goal for the Panthers, who got 20 saves from Scott Clemmensen. Florida lost for the fifth time in six home games.
“I think we could have had a better outcome,” Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann said. “Forty shots, one goal, that’s not good.”
The Predators went ahead 2-0 28 seconds into the second on Fisher’s goal. Martin Erat passed the puck from behind the net to Fisher below the left circle for a shot that beat Clemmensen on the far side.
“It was a great play by Erat to find me in the slot and I got a quick shot. It was good to get up by a couple and it was the winner,” Fisher said.
The Panthers cut the deficit to 2-1 on Wolski’s second-period goal. Marcel Goc passed the puck to Wolski who wristed a shot from the bottom of the right circle past Rinne’s glove side at 7:49.
Rinne even impressed the opposition.
“I don’t say this in a sarcastic or negative way at all, but goaltending was the difference tonight,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “The goals that were scored on us, there were a couple of breakdowns, but certainly Pekka Rinne earns his keep every time he goes out. He had a heck of a game.”
Jerred Smithson came to Florida from Nashville on Feb. 24 and knows how good Rinne is.
“He’s a world-class goaltender. We put pucks at him, we made him work. When he sees them he’s going to stop them,” Smithson said. “I’ve been shooting on him for so long and I don’t know how to beat him.”
Nashville restored its two-goal lead in the third when Legwand skated in on Clemmensen and backhanded a shot past him at 7:02.
The Predators opened the scoring on Kostitsyn’s goal at 11:35 of the firsy period. Kostitsyn took control of the puck in the neutral zone, brought it to the right circle, and sent a wrist shot over Clemmensen’s right shoulder.
NOTES: It was the only meeting of the season between the teams. … Nashville D Kevin Klein missed his third game because of an undisclosed upper-body injury. … Nashville D Ryan Ellis sat out with the flu. … Florida RW Kris Versteeg, the team leader with 22 goals and 49 points, missed a third game because of an undisclosed lower body injury. … Florida D Tyson Strachan was recalled from San Antonio of the AHL on Saturday. D Ed Jovanovski was given the day off.