NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Filip Forsberg has been known to pinpoint his wrist shot with almost surgical precision. This one was so good it stirred up everyone on the bench — even the physicians.
Forsberg scored the tiebreaking goal at 5:48 of the third period to lead the Nashville Predators over the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 in their season opener Thursday night.
Luke Kunin and Calle Jarnkrok also scored for the Predators, who have won 11 of their last 14 home openers. Juuse Saros made 29 saves.
“I thought (Saros) was good,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “There’s going to be breakdowns in the game, and I thought he came up big. You have to have that kind of goaltending to win.”
Boone Jenner had the goal for Columbus.
Early in the third, Nashville lost a defensive-zone faceoff but Forsberg recovered the puck and skated into the Columbus end. From the left faceoff dot, he snapped a wrist shot by goalie Joonas Korpisalo on the short side.
With just a few spectators scattered throughout the building, Forsberg heard the cheers of a specific group.
“We miss the fans. We want it to be rocking — 18,000 people getting wild for us,” Forsberg said. “I thought the people that were here, they did a great job. They were spread out pretty evenly throughout the building, and even the (team) doctors got excited when we scored.”
Korpisalo finished with 32 saves.
Jenner scored the first goal at 9:24 of the opening period on a breakaway.
Former Predator Seth Jones cleared the puck from behind the Columbus net off the left half boards. Near center ice, the puck hopped over the stick of Nashville defenseman Dante Fabbro, sending Jenner in all alone on Saros. Jenner beat Saros high to the blocker side.
In his first game with the Predators, Kunin tied it at 13:09 of the second.
Kunin skated down the right side into the Columbus zone on a 2-on-1. Blue Jackets defenseman Michael Del Zotto sild to take away the passing lane, so Kunin fired a wrist shot high to Korpisalo’s far side.
“I feel like I should have that one,” Korpisalo said.
Acquired from Minnesota in an Oct. 7 trade, Kunin missed the first couple of days of Nashville’s abbreviated training camp while working on a new contract with the Predators. The sides agreed to a two-year, $4.6 million deal last Wednesday.
“I thought it was a great effort by the guys tonight,” Kunin said. “It’s good to get that first win, and for me, it’s nice to get that first one out of the way.”
Jarnkrok scored an empty-net goal with 1:33 remaining.
“Third period we just didn’t generate enough forechecking and they made a lot of plays through us,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “We couldn’t get many pucks to the net. We didn’t have a scoring chance in the third period and I think they had five or six. We’ll look at the tape and we’re playing this team our next game.”
Forsberg’s goal was the 167th of his career in 459 games, all with Nashville. It moved him into second place on the club list. He trails only David Legwand, who scored 210 goals in 956 games with the Predators.
Even though just a few of the 17,000-plus Bridgestone Arena seats were occupied by family, friends and first responders for the season opener, a catfish made its way onto the ice prior to the opening faceoff. A fan-tossed catfish, Nashville’s answer to the octopi thrown by Detroit Red Wings fans, has been a frequent sighting at Predators home games over the years. Thursday night’s catfish adhered to strict COVID-19 protocols and wore a blue surgical mask that fit snugly against its mouth and whiskers.
Among those in attendance were the “Nashville 6,” the six Metro Nashville Police officers who evacuated citizens from downtown residences prior to the early Christmas morning bombing on Nashville’s historic 2nd Avenue.
REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD … MAYBE
Nashville and Columbus are back in the same division due to the NHL’s realignment for this season. The Blue Jackets and Predators were Central Division foes from the time Columbus entered the NHL in 2000, two seasons after Nashville entered the league in 1998, until Columbus moved to the Eastern Conference when the league realigned for the 2013-14 season. The Predators are 60-20-1-7 all-time against Columbus.
After a day off Friday, the teams square off again tonight to complete their two-game series.