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Panthers stymied by Saros again in 4-1 loss to Predators

Driedger leaves early with lower body injury

NHL: Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers started strong, but couldn’t finish the rest of the way, dropping a 4-1 decision to the Nashville Predators.

Nashville’s Juuse Saros stopped 39 of 40 shots to keep his team two points ahead of the surging Dallas Stars in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Discover Central Division.

Sam Bennett opened the scoring during a delayed penalty by going to the front of the net 4:49 into the game, Anthony Duclair took a pass from Markus Nutivaara and his centering pass from the right circle struck Bennett’s skate before finding twine. Good job by the Panthers of moving the puck from one side to the other with a series of passes to set up Duclair in open space.

Unfortunately, that would be all the offense the Cats could muster as Saros would go on to stop their next 37 shots. Tip of the cap to you, Mr. Saros.

An interference call on MacKenzie Weegar 49 seconds after Bennett’s tally put the Predators up a man and they made the Panthers pay when Mikael Granlund knocked in the rebound of Roman Josi’s shot from center point. Calle Jankrok got the secondary assist on the power-play goal.

Nashville forged ahead 3:35 into the middle frame when Mattias Ekholm stopped a ring-around-boards clearing attempt and sent the puck back behind the net to short-time Cat Erik Haula, who found Nick Cousins, who got away from Weegar, open in front for the chip-shot conversion.

Starter Chris Driedger would play another 11:11 before departing the game with 14 saves on 16 shots. Not sure if Driedger suffered a new lower body injury or reaggravated the one he was dealing with last week.

The Predators would solve reliever Sergei Bobrovsky twice in the first half of the third period to put the game away. Bobrovsky finished up with 9 saves on 11 shots.

After fending off Lucas Wallmark to establish possession in the zone, Haula went to the slot to finish off a tasty backhand feed from Matt Duchene at 2:39, Another former Panther, Erik Gudbranson collected the second helper. Hats off to Haula on this one, tight piece of work.

Nashville completed the scoring at the 9:12 mark when Colton Scissons harried a leaden Keith Yandle during a chase into the Panthers end. Yandle managed to get the puck to Weegar, who was immediately stripped by Yakov Trenin. Scissions gathered the loose disk and tried to throw it down low to Trenin, Instead his pass struck Owen Tippett and ended up on the stick of Tanner Jeannot in the right circle. Jeannot one-timed the carom at Bobrovsky and Trenin got a piece of it for his fifth of the season.

The Panthers missed out on a chance to clinch a playoff spot last night by their own hand. They weren’t terrible by any means, they out-shot Nashville 40-27, but the Predators were the hungrier of the two teams, evidenced by the amount of hard work they put in on their last three goals. The home side won the faceoff battle, had more hits and blocked more shots. Florida’s power play continues to struggle mightily, and as many have pointed out on social media, Yandle continues Yandleing. After a monstrous performance on Saturday, Weegar had a pretty tough night as well. I was expecting a bit of a let down after the two-game set with Carolina, so let’s hope we see a better performance tonight. The Predators are fighting for their playoff lives, so the Cats will need to match that intensity.

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