In the waning moments of regulation in what would eventually be a shootout win for the Nashville Predators on Sunday, Mike Fisher gave Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson an, um, “cup check.”
(Please keep your inevitable Carrie Underwood jokes clean, commenters.)
In case you’re wondering, Fisher hasn’t been suspended by the NHL before and there was no penalty on the play.
Also, in a bit of good fortune for Fisher, that concluded the Panthers – Predators games for this season (barring an unlikely 2015 Stanley Cup Final series). Gudbranson will probably have to wait until 2015-16 to have a word with Fisher for that one.
Florida had a 2-0 edge through 40 minutes and outshot the Predators 15-4 in the third frame. What ultimately sank the Panthers was a hooking penalty from Derek MacKenzie and a slashing call against Tomas Kopecky. Nashville isn’t known for its strong power play, but Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg capitalized on those opportunities.
That was Forsberg’s 18th goal of the season. The Calder Trophy frontrunner now leads all rookies with 48 points in 53 games. He came up big again in the shootout by scoring the deciding goal in the fourth round.
With that, Nashville has now won four of its last five games to improve to 35-12-6 this season. If Anaheim loses against Tampa Bay today, then the Predators will have the best record in the NHL.
By contrast the Panthers have been struggling lately with just three wins over their last 11 games. They’re six points shy of a playoff spot and will be further behind than that if Boston beats Montreal tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Pekka Rinne will start in goal for Nashville — for the first time since Jan. 19 — when the Preds host the Ducks tonight at Bridgestone.
Rinne, the NHL’s wins leader (29), had been playing at a Vezina- and Hart-worthy level prior to suffering a sprained knee three weeks ago, posting a .931 save percentage and 1.96 GAA. While Nashville did well in his absence (Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec combined to go 4-2-2), Rinne’s return will be a massive boost, especially against a Ducks team that’s tied on 72 points with the Preds, but trails in the standings because of the regulation wins tiebreaker.
For Anaheim, Frederik Andersen will get the start in goal.
Blues at Sabres: Jake Allen vs. Jhonas Enroth
Isles at Flyers: Jaroslav Halak vs. Steve Mason
Caps at Sens: Braden Holtby vs. Robin Lehner
Kings at Panthers: Roberto Luongo for Florida, Jonathan Quick likely for L.A.
Bolts at Stars: Andrei Vasilevskiy for Tampa Bay, Kari Lehtonen likely for Dallas.
Wings at Avs: Petr Mrazek for Detroit, no word on a Colorado starter.
‘Canes at Coyotes: Cam Ward vs. Mike Smith
Sharks at Canucks: Ryan Miller for Vancouver, Antti Niemi likely for San Jose.
Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban has become the fifth player this season to be fined for diving/embellishment — on Wednesday, the NHL announced Subban was dinged $2,000 for an incident against the Rangers last week.
Subban was issued a Warning following an incident flagged by NHL Hockey Operations during NHL Game No. 586 vs. Tampa Bay on Jan. 6. His second Citation, which triggered the $2,000 fine, was issued for an incident during NHL Game No. 712 at New York on Jan. 29.
Subban was assessed a minor penalty for embellishment and Rangers forward Chris Kreider received a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play, at 13:05 of the first period.
And the incident:
The Habs rearguard joins the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck, Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist, Florida’s Vincent Trocheck and Nashville’s James Neal in the quintet of players to be publicly outed as divers, under new rules put forth by the league this season.
Dustin Brown thinks it’s a matter of emotion. And maybe there’s something to his argument. The way the Kings play when they’re successful takes commitment.
But Darryl Sutter disagrees. He doesn’t think his team’s problems have as much to do with emotion as they do with a different “personnel.”
“We’re not the same team,” Sutter said after last night’s 4-0 loss to Washington, per L.A. Kings Insider. “It’s a quite a bit different team.”
The biggest difference is on the blue line, where Willie Mitchell is no longer and Slava Voynov may or may not be again. The result is Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin logging around four minutes more per game — Doughty’s averaging 29:20, compared to 25:42 last season — and Brayden McNabb playing, period.
Because make no mistake, the Kings are in trouble. Nobody’s counting them out — never count out the Kings — but according to Sports Club Stats, their chances of making the playoffs have fallen to 30.9 percent.
The Kings play Thursday in Florida and Saturday in Tampa Bay before finishing off their five-game road trip Monday in Columbus.