The last time Juuse Saros faced the Panthers, the Nashville Predators pulled him from the game during the second intermssion.
There would be no taking Saros out on Thursday night.
After giving up his fourth goal of the year to Jonathan Huberdeau, Saros shut the Panthers down, getting the Preds their second consecutive Sunshine State win as they beat the Panthers 2-1 at BB&T Center.
Saros, who gave up five goals over two periods in Nashville’s eventual come-from-behind 6-5 overtime win Feb. 4, made 40 saves in the win.
Florida’s power play went 0-for-3 and could not score with Sergei Bobrovsky (25 saves) on the bench and the net empty.
Activated following Monday’s win in Tampa Bay, Saros did not face the Panthers in either game in Nashville due to injury.
”The games are going to get harder here,” Joel Quenneville said. “We have everyone … Nashville is playing for their lives, trying to get back into the race, into the playoff picture.
“The value of the games is going to be in the points. That’s going to be good for us. We have to know that we have to push every night. Every shift is magnified in its importance.”
A hard-hitting first period was punctuated with the Panthers taking the first lead on a beautiful goal from Huberdeau — who got his first career NHL hat trick against Saros in February.
MacKenzie Weegar got the whole thing going, finding Patric Hornqvist racing up along the boards. Hornqvist skated the puck deep into the zone with Huberdeau riding shotgun.
Hornqvist saw Matt Benning hit the deck in trying to block the pass, only Hornqvist flipped it over him and led Huberdeau who punched it in past Saros with 1:22 left.
It was as pretty a sequence the Panthers have had all season — and that’s saying something.
”Obviously a good defensive play in our zone got the 2-on-1,” Huberdeau said. “Then Horny, great pass … great saucer pass and then I made a move and put it in.”
But, that was all Saros was going to give up this night.
Calle Jarnkrok scored both of Nashville’s goals — from basically the same spot — to snap Florida’s four-game winning streak.
Bobrovsky had won his past six starts.
These two meet up again Saturday at 2.
FIRST PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS
It was apparent from the start that A) Nashville was ready to go and B) the Panthers, after two full days of rest, were as well.
The first period was chippy and hard-hitting with the NHL officially crediting the Preds with 12 hits in the period and somehow only giving Florida four (it had more).
Nashville appeared to take the initial lead with Ryan Johansen’s long shot beating Bobrovsky. Only the officials quickly ruled Bobrovsky had been interfered with by Eeli Tolvanen and waved the goal off.
The Preds looked to get that goal back in the later stages of the period when a Florida power play was cut short after Aaron Ekblad was called for a high stick after he punched a Nashville defender.
Moments later, Huberdeau was called for high-sticking after Ben Harpur appeared to trip on his own and drag Huberdeau down with him.
Questionable, sure, but the Panthers now had to kill a 5-on-3 for 55 seconds once the 4-on-3 ended in 12 seconds.
The Panthers went to work blocking one shot after another (again, the NHL went low, crediting Noel Acciari with three for the entire period and the Panthers with five total) to keep the Preds off the board.
That allowed Huberdeau to give Florida a 1-0 lead with 1:22 left on that pretty saucer pass from Hornqvist.
”That was insane,” Huberdeau said in reference to Acciari continuing to get up and then go back down to block another shot.
”He’s the type of guy who will do anything for his team. Penalty killing, four blocked shots in a row is impressive. He works hard, plays through injuries. He shows what a teammate he is and wants to win every night.”
Florida had another scoring sequence in the final minute knocked away by Saros — who was excellent in making 12 saves in the opening 20.
The Panthers outshot Nashville 13-11 and (again, according to the NHL) only had 18 shot attempts.
SECOND PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS
This was a lot less of a physical period than the first (even if the official numbers tell another story) as the Panthers came out firing.
Florida ended up outshooting the Preds 15-8 with quite a few more (official) shot attempts than in the first.
The Panthers’ power play finally got a full two-minute go at things as Yakov Trenin went to the box 38 seconds in.
Florida did not put a dent in the Nashville penalty kill, which came into the night ranked last in the league.
The Preds tied things up ay 7:25 with Jarnkrok scoring from the low slot as he got the puck in front of Ekblad and put it past Bobrovsky.
The Panthers biggest scoring chance came around the midway point when Eetu Luostartinen had a couple of chances including one at the doorstep.
THIRD PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS
Jarnkrok got his second goal from basically the same spot, making it 2-1 early in the period.
Bobrovsky came out of the net to play the puck on the back wall, mistimed things and couldn’t get back. Jarnkrok took a feed from Mikael Granlund and scored.
Not long afterward, Anthony Duclair broke out and walked in on Saros, his breakaway attempt stuffed right into Saros’ pad.
With 7:47 left, the Panthers got their final power play of the game but mustered very little.
”We didn’t execute,” Huberdeau said. “There have been some nights where we need to be better on the power play. We ned to work harder. We were soft out there especially myself.”
Florida had a few more scoring chances throughout the period and pulled Bobrovsky with 90 seconds remaining.
A late penalty on Keith Yandle slowed their all-out charge, however.
GEORGE’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Calle Jarnkrok, Nashville
2. Juuse Saros, Nashville
3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida
ON TAP: PREDATORS AT PANTHERS
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise
Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE