Niskanen scored his eighth and ninth goals of the season, and the
Eastern Conference-leading Penguins beat the Predators 3-1 at
Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.
The game-winner came on a power play at 7:29 of the third period,
when Niskanen fired a 34-foot slap shot past Rinne, the Predators
star who was making his first appearance since October. Rinne sat
out 51 games due to a hip infection.
"It was a pretty long time to me, so it means a lot to me to be
back, first of all, and play at home," he said. "The fans were good
to me and obviously that felt pretty good. But still, we lost the
game. It's tough to take. It's a huge game for us and we had a
chance going into the third, and I think the special teams saved the
game for them."
The Penguins came in on a three-game losing streak, and coach Dan
Bylsma was happy with the way it ended.
"Holding (Nashville) under 20 shots, playing ... a tight game in the
third, those were all things we wanted to do in this game. I thought
our (penalty kill) was exceptional," said Bylsma, whose team held
the Predators scoreless all four times they had a man advantage.
With Nashville defenseman David Legwand drawing a hooking penalty at
6:47 of the third, the Penguins made the most of their man
advantage. Paul Martin, operating to the right between the blue line
and the face-off circle, flipped the puck to an open Niskanen, who
blasted it by Rinne for a 2-1 advantage.
Pittsburgh struck with the game's first goal 27 seconds into the
second period. Center Sidney Crosby, skating behind the Predators'
net, found Niskanen open for a slap shot that got behind Rinne.
"The first one was a cycle play. Crosby came around the net, found
me and put it right in the wheelhouse," Niskanen said. "I don't know
how it went in, because it didn't get off the ice."
Twelve seconds later, Nashville tied the game. Predators center Mike
Fisher fired a shot that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury knocked down right
at the feet of Nashville left wing Nick Spaling, who in turn passed
it to right wing Patric Hornqvist for a wrist shot that found the
back of the net.
That was the only blemish for the night for Fleury. The Predators
had some good shots, but the veteran turned them away time and time
"It wasn't the win, but more the way we played," Fleury said. "If we
lost the way we played tonight, it would be different than
(Saturday's 5-1 loss to Chicago).
"We battled hard. The penalty kill was great. The power play had
some chances. We didn't panic. We didn't give them the three-on-ones
and the two-on-ones. Guys were locking down the breakaways. All of
that together was good."
[to top of second column]
With 2:55 left in the game, Pittsburgh left winger Chris Kunitz
added an insurance goal on a slap shot from between the circles off
a pass from Crosby. Any chance the Predators had of a comeback was
gone when defenseman Shea Weber drew an unsportsmanlike conduct
penalty after the play for hammering the puck aimlessly into the
"It's frustrating," said Nashville defenseman Roman Josi, Weber's
blue-line partner. "We were playing well and we just couldn't get
The first period ended without a score, but both teams had chances.
Early in the first on a two-on-one break, Kunitz took a cross-ice
pass from Crosby and briefly had an open net. His shot clanged off
the left post from almost point-blank range as Rinne closed quickly
to his right.
Later in the period, Nashville left winger Gabriel Bourque cranked a
slap shot past Fleury, but it ricocheted off the right post.
Predator centers Paul Gaustad got one behind Fleury late in the
period, but officials ruled that Gaustad kicked it in. The decision
was upheld after a review that lasted several minutes.
Rinne finished with 16 saves. Fleury stopped 18 shots. Trotz was
pleased with Rinne's play on the whole, but admitted there was some
"You can tell he hasn't had a lot of exchanges with our defense,"
Trotz said. "That's an area where (Rinne) has been such a good
goaltender with the puck."
Meanwhile, Bylsma felt his team was back to playing at a high level.
"The only disappointing part about this game is we didn't shoot the
puck enough when we had opportunities," he said. "(Center Evgeni
Malkin) hit the post maybe three or four times in the game, so those
shots didn't count for us. But I thought to a man we played much
harder in this game."
NOTES: Neither team made any moves Tuesday, the day before the NHL's
trade deadline. ... Three injured Penguins — RW Beau Bennett
(wrist), RW Chris Conner (hand) and G Tomas Vokoun (blood clots) — have been skating after practice. Coach Dan Bylsma said Conner is
the closest to returning to practice. ... The Predators missed G
Pekka Rinne, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, during his lengthy
absence. Rinne had a 2.31 goals-against average and a .917 saves
percentage in nine games earlier this season; the team's four other
goalies combined for 3.42 and .900. ... In the 30 games since Dec.
12 before Tuesday, Nashville D Shea Weber racked up 27 points, tops
among the league's defensemen in that time span. Nashville's
All-Star was held scoreless Tuesday.
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