One team was battling for first place in its division, the other was battling to remain out of last place in its division, but on the ice you couldn’t tell which was which for most of Tuesday night’s game at Honda Center.
Looking more like a squad in playoff contention instead of one with the second-worst record in the Western Conference, the Ducks held on to defeat Nashville 3-2 in front of 16,811, who were on the edge of their seats in the final, frenzied minutes with the Predators buzzing around the Anaheim net desperate for the tying goal.
Starting the game 11 points out of the final playoff spot, the Ducks played as if they believed they could make one last postseason push with 11 games remaining. They have won four of their last six games.
“We’re all competitive people and we want to make sure we’re playing good and playing for one another,” defenseman Cam Fowler said. “It always takes a team effort. The first period was great but we got sloppy as the game went on and that allowed them to get back in it. Defensively, we’re playing from the inside out, which is the trend in the NHL now. We’re rallying around one another and we’re starting to see some results.”
Ryan Getzlaf took a pass from Josh Manson, skated in alone and fired the puck past goalie Pekka Rinne for his 12th goal this season 3 minutes 39 seconds into the contest. Defenseman Jacob Larsson was sent to the box for tripping two minutes later, but goalie John Gibson made two point-blank saves to help the Ducks kill the penalty.
Jakob Silfverberg doubled the lead at the 10:56 mark of the first period on a wrist shot from the left of the slot that sailed over the shoulder of Rinne and under the crossbar. It was the winger’s 20th goal this season and 103rd as a Duck, moving him past Andrew Cogliano for eighth on the all-time franchise list.
“Scoring 20 goals is nice, but I don’t put too much emphasis on it,” said Silfverberg, who extended his point streak to a career-high six games. “We’ve been playing pretty good and even the games we’ve lost have been close. The season isn’t over so you might as well make the most of it. We’d like to be in a different position in the standings but the most important thing is playing good hockey.”
In contrast to Sunday, when the Ducks took two shots in the first period of a 3-2 loss to the last-place Kings, the Ducks had eight shots in the first 20 minutes against Nashville, aggressively forechecking to generate quality opportunities.
Max Jones had a chance to widen the gap on a penalty shot with 8:13 left in the second period, but Rinne made the save. Daniel Sprong used a nifty move to get around defenseman Matt Irwin and lifted a backhander past Rinne for his 12th goal to make it 3-0 at the 13:59 mark.
Filip Forsberg scored on a two-man advantage with 6:44 left in the third period and cut the Predators’ deficit to 3-2 on a power play less than one minute later.
Nashville pulled Rinne for a sixth attacker in the final two minutes, but couldn’t get the equalizer.
The win lifted the Ducks into a tie with idle Vancouver for sixth place in the Pacific Division.
It was a lackluster start to a three-game California swing for Nashville, which was trying to leapfrog Winnipeg atop the Central Division. The Jets lost 5-4 at home to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.
Gibson stopped 32 shots for his 20th victory, the 26th time this season he gave up two goals or fewer, and improved to 3-1-0 in his last four starts.