NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Ryan Johansen can’t wait to watch the Nashville Predators’ big play again.
Not his goal that preserved Nashville’s hopes of repeating as Central Division champs. No, he wants to watch how Filip Forsberg kept the puck in the zone setting up Johansen’s game-winner, a play Johansen called possibly the most impressive thing he’s seen his linemate do.
“The absolute relentless talented way to get the puck, strip the puck, get it back, make a play . that was world-class,” Johansen said.
Forsberg fed the puck to Johansen for the winning goal with 19.5 seconds remaining, and the Predators rallied to beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 Thursday night.
Winnipeg needed a win and Nashville to lose for the Jets to clinch the division Thursday night. The Predators trailed 2-0 after the first period and 2-1 before scoring twice in the final 4:20. Then a 3-2 loss in overtime to Colorado left the Jets tied with St. Louis (97 points apiece) with Nashville atop the Central Division (98 points).
Now, the Predators need only to beat Chicago on Saturday night to repeat as division champs and clinch home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the postseason.
Nick Bonino tied it up with 4:20 left when Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom got caught to the left of his net with Austin Watson sliding across in front of him, leaving an open net for Bonino to score his 16th of the season. The Canucks lost their challenge for goaltender interference.
“It was a penalty on Jake,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “It’s an obvious penalty, and they missed that.”
Johansen’s pass across the slot to Viktor Arvidsson instead went off the outstretched stick of Canucks defenseman Troy Stecher and past Markstrom’s left pad and in. The Canucks also challenged, this time for being offside and lost.
Colton Sissons also scored for Nashville, which now has won four of five. Watson had two assists in his first game back in Nashville after a 27-game suspension for alcohol abuse under the NHL’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.
Markus Granlund scored and Tanner Pearson each had power-play goals for Vancouver, which snapped a three-game winning streak. Quinn Hughes had two assists.
With so much on the line, the Predators trailed 2-0 after the first period with the Canucks outshooting them.
Nashville had killed 28 straight penalties over its last 10 games. But the Predators had a second left on a hooking penalty on Wayne Simmonds when Granlund scored his 12th at 8:49 of the first, lifting the puck over Pekka Rinne’s glove for a 1-0 lead.
Just 10.6 seconds remained in the period when Pearson scored with the puck going off the post and then off Rinne’s back and in for another power-play goal.
“I didn’t like the start,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “I didn’t like the scoreboard. I didn’t like the penalties we took and they scored coming off both penalties. Just not sharp enough in that first. From there, I liked it. The second period, we got going right off the bat. We started firing pucks and delivering pucks and hunting a little bit more. From that, the game turned.”
The Predators pulled to 2-1 when Sissons scored on a wrister just 37 seconds into the second. Officials blew the whistle and waved off the goal on the ice, then a review showed Markstrom didn’t stop the puck before sliding into the net. The goal was reminiscent of a Sissons goal whistled dead in Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
“I’m glad they changed that rule,” Sissons said. “I think it was actually the same ref (Kevin Pollock) of the Finals in Game 6 against Pittsburgh when they didn’t allow that goal of mine. It was a big one. I’m happy to help us get a win tonight. It was huge. I was saying to the bench, ‘There’s no way this is going through,’ maybe I should keep saying that, and it will go the other way.”
NOTES: Nashville now is 7-2-1 over its last 10. … The Predators improved to 11-25-5 when allowing the first goal and 8-19-2 when trailing after one period. … Sissons extended his career-high with his 14th goal and also 29 points. … Granlund skated in his 300th career NHL game. … Pearson now has seven points (six goals, one assist) over eight games.
Canucks: Conclude season Saturday in St. Louis.
Predators: Host Chicago in regular season finale Saturday night.