CALGARY â€” A four-goal lead with less than four minutes to go in the third period should be safe. But for the Nashville Predators, it nearly wasn’t.
Ryan Ellis had his first career two-goal game as the Predators held off a furious late rally to beat the Calgary Flames 4-3 on Thursday night.
“A little scary down the stretch there, but we earned that one,” said Ellis.
Down 4-0, Kris Versteeg’s power-play goal at 16:17 broke the shutout. Michael Frolik scored 17 seconds later to suddenly cut the lead to two and with Chad Johnson pulled for an extra skater, Sean Monahan jammed in his 14th goal with 48 seconds left.
But the Flames never did get a decent chance to make it all the way back.
“They got one on the power play and it just unravelled from there,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette. “That’s all you need sometimes, a little momentum. They end up getting a second one, the goalie is pulled, and anything can happen.”
James Neal scored his team-leading 15th goal while Filip Forsberg ended up with the eventual game-winner for Nashville (21-17-7).
The win moves the Predators past Los Angeles into the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“Tonight we worked for about 57 minutes and still got rewarded for it, so it’s a good sign for our team,” said Ellis.
The Flames (24-21-3) continue their pattern of inconsistency in recent weeks. Falling behind early has been a problem as Calgary has given up the first goal in its last six games.
“It’s a team game so when you get scored on, you have to bounce back,” said Monahan. “Each line has to do something to get some momentum. Right now we’re not doing that and we’ve got to find a way to not be so fragile.”
Nashville opened the scoring at 4:59 when Mike Fisher’s shot was stopped but Neal buried the rebound for his first goal since Dec. 10.
“It’s almost like we wait for something good to happen, instead of trying to make something good happen. You can’t wait,” said Flames coach Glen Gulutzan. “Once you get down 1-0 in a game, now you’re at the mercy of a bad hop. You’re at the mercy of a power-play goal. You just dig yourself into a hole. You have to be prepared to play.”
Ellis made it 2-0 at 11:23 of the second when he was sprung in alone by a nice pass on a two-on-one from Harry Zolnierczyk. Ellis scored again at 18:58 on a power play. With all sorts of time and no one around him, he walked in from the blue line and blasted a slap shot past a screened Johnson.
“I could have stepped up there and made some more saves. That’s just disappointing,” said Johnson, who finished with 17 saves while falling to 16-11-1 on the season. “I had some good looks. Those are times that I feel I can step up and make saves and it didn’t happen. You give up four goals and you’re not going to win too many hockey games.”
Calgary is now just two points up on the Predators in the Western Conference standings and holds the first wild-card spot. Nashville also has three games in hand.
Rookie goaltender Juuse Saros made 32 saves to improve to 5-3-1. The 21-year-old Finn has been excellent in a backup role behind countryman Pekka Rinne.
“I felt pretty good the whole game. The D let me see the pucks well and collect all the rebounds, so that was good,” said Saros.
Notes: The Predators improve to 14-0-4 when scoring the first goal… Flames C Sam Bennett was a healthy scratch for Calgary… Flames LW Micheal Ferland (lower body) returned after missing three games… Referee Tom Kowal was honoured before the game for working his 1,000th NHL game… Fisher recorded his 300th assist.
Darren Haynes, The Canadian Press