The Nashville Predators somehow found a way to get a point out of last night’s shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

For 57 minutes, it looked like the Preds were going to be shutout yet again by Matt Murray and have their winning streak come to a crashing halt. But a fortuitous goal by Ryan Ellis with 3:01 left in the 3rd period helped save at least a point for the Predators.

If this were earlier in the regular season, we might be saying this Preds team blew a chance to take two points at home. But within a few weeks of the playoffs, points are at a premium and every little bit counts.

Penguins held until they didn’t

The Predators came out skating fast and peppered the Pittsburgh net with shots. But the offensive surge lasted only about five minutes before the Penguins regained control of the game.

From there, the Penguins held strong in the middle of the ice, denying the Predators the chance to get set up in front. Several rushes came and went for the Preds, most of which ended in deflected passes, blocked shots, and turnovers.

Eventually, the Penguins were able to draw first blood. Bryan Rust put the Penguins up 1-0, slamming home a rebound in front of Pekka Rinne at 5:57 of the 2nd period. Only moments before, Craig Smith had a quality chance from the circle, but couldn’t get it by Matt Murray.

The Preds found their legs in the 3rd period, putting 13 shots on Murray in that period alone. It was by far the Preds best period of the game and it capped off with a most bizarre game tying goal.

Ryan Ellis peeled down the right side of the Penguins zone, skirted a check by a Pittsburgh defender, and then threw a prayer on net when he got close to the goal line. It was almost an impossible angle. Murray had the post covered, but the puck snuck through the goal and tied the game with 3:01 left.

Most everyone on the ice, Murray included, looking shocked that the puck went in. But sometimes that’s hockey.

From there, the Preds held serve until overtime, but couldn’t get anything else by Murray in the extra frame or the shootout. Sidney Crosby scored the only shootout goal to get the win for the Penguins. But if not for that frantic 3rd period and the Hail Mary shot by Ellis, this game would have been completely lost.

“Already it felt like the end of the second period we started getting a little bit more
looks,” Pekka Rinne said after the game. “And then the third period – that seems to be our thing a lot of times, our best period is the third period. And again, big tying goal by Ellis, and that was big at the time and took us in to overtime and got us one point.”

Ryan Ellis felt the Preds had more chances earlier in the game they should have capitalized, but was happy with the defensive effort.

“There were times in the first shift that we had a breakaway more or less and at times in the first, second, and third period we were in their end controlling play. I think they did the same to us. We played good team defense for the most part.”

Central race gets tighter

The “loser point” awarded to Nashville last night was big also because the race for the Central division tightened up a little bit.

Winnipeg lost 5-0 in Vegas last night, putting the Predators within two points of the division lead. Also, St. Louis won 5-2 over Detroit and are now within four points of Nashville for 2nd place.

The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place positions in the Central division are now separated by only six points.

This all leads to yet another huge matchup for the Preds this weekend. They head to Winnipeg on Saturday to take on the Jets. If they want any chance of winning the Central division, they need to come away with at least two points in that game.

In the end, that goal by Ryan Ellis could be the difference between the Predators winning the Central and finishing in 2nd place. Of course, much depends on how the Preds play in Winnipeg on Saturday, but they needed tonight’s point in order to be in a position to tie the Jets over the weekend.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —

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