Five days ago, the Buffalo Sabres relieved Lindy Ruff of his duties as the head coach of a team he had guided since 1997. That firing allowed Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz to inherit the title of the NHL’s longest tenured head coach. Trotz has the second-longest tenure among head coaches of North America’s four professional sports, trailing only Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
Early in the second period of Monday night’s game against the Dallas Stars, Trotz channeled his round ball-coaching colleague when he called a basketball-style timeout in an attempt to slow down a Stars team that had just scored twice in the span of 25 seconds to take a 2-1 lead at 1:45 of the middle frame.
But unlike basketball, where coaches appear to get one timeout for each time their team dribbles the ball, hockey only allows each team one 30 second timeout per game, so it is imperative for a coach to use it wisely.
“It was just two missed blown coverages back-to-back,” Trotz said.
And the two quick Dallas goals were just the start of the most exciting period of hockey played in Nashville since last year’s playoffs.
Goals (6), fights (1 and a half), high sticks (at least 3), and just the overall intensity of hockey that is usually played after the regular season, punctuated a spirited 20 minutes of action.
Roman Josi tied the game 2-2 just 2:20 after Trotz’s timeout with a slapper from the left point with Patric Hornqvist and Gabriel Bourque creating traffic in front of Stars goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp.
“It was just a wakeup call I think,” Hornqvist said of the timeout. “He stood up and said what we had to do. It was a good wakeup call. A lot of good things happened after that.”
But Dallas struck twice in the span of less than two minutes to take a 4-2 lead near the midpoint of the second.
The chippiness then began when Nashville’s Martin Erat got tied up with fellow Czech forward Jaromir Jagr inside the Nashville zone. Erat’s stick clipped the face of Predators captain Shea Weber, but most thought that it was Jagr’s twig that opened up a cut on Weber’s face.
After some pushing and shoving, Brandon Yip and Eric Nystrom fought following the next whistle. Less than a minute later, Mike Fisher was the recipient of a Vernon Fiddler cheap shot as he was heading back to the bench for a change. Fisher and Fiddler dropped the mitts briefly, each drawing a roughing minor with Fiddler getting an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct for starting the scrap.
“There were some emotions and good hits and a lot energy,” Fisher said.
With the Predators on a 5-on-3, Hornqvist drew the Predators to within one with his goal at 13:43. After he scored, Hornqvist took an unpenalized high stick to the face from Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas.
“I got a little lucky there, but I will take one of those goals,” Hornqvist later said while sporting a small cut under his left eye.
Trailing by a goal in the third, Fisher took a nice head-man pass from Colin Wilson and split two Dallas defenders before beating Nilstorp with a backhand to tie the game at 8:22.
“I found a hole and I was just trying to get it on net and it got through his legs,” Fisher said.
Fisher’s goal proved to be the only one of the third period and the teams headed to overtime.
Already with a career-high three points on the score sheet, Josi capped the Predators comeback with a slap shot from the left side that beat Nilstorp up high to win the game at 28 seconds of overtime. The burner from the Berner was his first-career NHL game-winning goal.
“I just tried to get it to the net,” Josi said. “I saw three guys joined already, so I tried to be the safety guy and back up a little. (Sergei Kostitsyn) made a great play to me, and I just tried to get it to the net and I think the d-man tipped it.”