Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad officially joined teammate Jonathan Huberdeau as a thorn in the Nashville Predators’ side this season.
Ekblad’s career-high four-point night on Thursday — two power-play goals, two assists — carried the Panthers in the opener of their two-game series, a 5-4 win in Nashville in a game the Predators nearly tied.
The teams meet again Saturday afternoon in Nashville, and the home side will have to contend with the offensive play of Ekblad.
Ekblad assisted on Carter Verhaeghe’s opener, and his stretch pass set up Mason Marchment for his first career tally before adding Florida’s final two markers on the power-play.
Ekblad’s four points matched the team record for points in a regular-season game by a defenseman. His two power-play goals gave him 28 for his career, eclipsing Robert Svehla’s previous record for tallies by a defenseman on the man advantage.
Heading into Friday’s matches, Ekblad — the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 draft by the Panthers — tops all NHL defensemen with eight goals.
In the clubs’ first meeting on Feb. 4, Huberdeau and Nashville’s Filip Forsberg had a duel of five-point nights, and each scored multiple points again Thursday.
The victory pushed the Panthers to 6-2-2 in their past 10 and 7-1-1 on the road.
With No. 1 goalie Juuse Saros (upper body) placed on injured reserve, Pekka Rinne kept Nashville in the third game between the teams despite giving up three goals in the game’s first 20:59.
Rinne, 38, denied a number of top-shelf chances and odd-man rushes by Florida to hold the second-period deficit at 3-0, and the Predators gradually clawed back in the game.
“Tonight it could’ve been 3- or 4-0 in the first seven minutes of the game,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “We gave up odd-man rushes, our D were pinching at the wrong time, our forwards had to reload a little bit more.”
Nashville cut it to 4-2 but eventually ran out of time after Ryan Johansen scored with Rinne off the ice during a six-on-five skater advantage and 1:13 remaining to make it 5-4.
“It’s back-to-back games here where we obviously got down early in the first,” Hynes said. “It comes down to the urgency you need to play with and establish the game. I respect the fact that we stay with it and find ways to get ourselves back in it.
“The urgency level and competitiveness that we’re playing with in the first period is not close to being good enough.”
–Field Level Media