NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A year after an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators have been hard at work preparing for the postseason.
It’s just a happy byproduct that they’ve matched the NHL’s longest winning streak this season in the process.
Austin Watson scored a short-handed goal late in the second period and the Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 on Thursday night to extend their franchise-record run to 10 games.
The Predators also matched Colorado for the longest winning streak in the NHL this season. The victory kept Nashville’s edge at six points ahead of Winnipeg and Vegas for the Western Conference lead.
“We’re focused on the process and what we need to do to be ready come playoff time,” Predators center Ryan Johansen said. “We’re just taking it day-by-day and looking at our team game and what we can always be improving on and these wins are obviously nice as they keep coming along.”
Pekka Rinne made 31 saves to improve to 18-1-1 over his last 20 games.
Johansen had a goal and an assist and also fought with Ducks center Ryan Kesler.
“What did he have, a fight, a goal and an assist?” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “That’s old school.”
Craig Smith and Viktor Arvidsson each scored. Filip Forsberg had two assists for Nashville, which honored David Poile before the game for becoming career wins leader among NHL general managers with his 1,320th victory last week.
Rickard Rakell scored twice in the third period for the Ducks, who snapped a three-game winning streak. Rakell’s second goal at 16:35 pulled the Ducks within 3-2 before Arvidsson scored over goalie John Gibson‘s glove with 1:46 left.
The Predators swept the three-game season series against the Ducks, the same team they beat for the Western Conference championship last year. Center Ryan Getzlaf said the Ducks were too tentative early with the puck.
“It’s finding that happy medium,” Getzlaf said. “At times we get too revved up when we come in this building about running everybody over and all the other stuff and forgetting playing hockey.”
The puck didn’t drop until after a pre-game ceremony for Poile, who got the record March 1 in Nashville’s 4-2 victory at Edmonton. That win pushed him past Glen Sather (1,319). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand for the festivities Thursday.
The Predators didn’t miss a beat after the delay as Smith scored at 5:26 of the first period with a wrister that beat Gibson glove-side. Then Forsberg found Johansen at the edge of the crease with a pass, and Johansen redirected it for his 10th goal at 15:10.
The Ducks went on the power play late in the second period, and the Predators quickly turned that into a 3-0 lead. Colton Sissons skated up and took a shot, then Watson scored off the rebound with 1:18 left for his third short-handed goal this season — tied for second in the NHL.
“That was a momentum changer,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “I thought we started to impose a little more will in the second period and then we had an opportunity to make it a 1-goal game and then we give up a short-handed goal.”
Ducks center Ryan Kesler and Johansen fought on the ensuing faceoff. Johansen said Kesler had been asking to fight for two periods. The Predators center fell after apparently stepping on a stick.
“Was that what that was?” Johansen said. “I hope so, because I went down pretty easy. We’ll go 1-0 Kesler.”
Anaheim opened the third taking the first few shots. Arvidsson hit a post for Nashville, then the Ducks came back the other way with Rakell scoring on a pass from Corey Perry at 6:04 of the period. Rakell made it 3-2 with his 30th goal of the season.
Notes: Nashville improved to 30-2-3 when leading after two periods. … Smith has 21 goals this season, three away from matching his career best. … Ryan Hartman has four points (two goals, two assists) in six games since Nashville picked up him in a trade from Chicago. … Forsberg has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last five regular-season games against Anaheim. … Rakell has a five-game point streak (seven goals and two assists).
Ducks: Visit Dallas on Friday night.
Predators: Host Devils on Saturday night.