The Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators began 2016 by locking up in a game that seemed destined for overtime from the first drop of the puck.
It was tight-checking. Both goalies, the Canes’ Eddie Lack and the Predators’ Pekka Rinne, were sharp. Good shots were hard to come by.
And it did take overtime to decide it. Defenseman Mattias Ekholm’s goal at three minutes, nine seconds of the three-on-three OT finally gave the Predators a 2-1 victory before 12,149 at PNC Arena on Saturday.
“Both teams had a hard time getting grade-A scoring chances,” Canes coach Bill Peters said. “I didn’t feel like we were as dangerous as we like to be.”
The Canes lost forward Phil Di Giuseppe to an upper-body injury in the second period. Peters said after the game the rookie may have injured his shoulder and head, and said Di Giuseppe went through the NHL concussion protocol.
“We were matching pretty hard up to that point,” Peters said. “We had to start shuffling the deck and we took some penalties, too. It was a little uneven with tempo and flow off the bench.”
The Canes (16-17-6) ended a promising December with a 4-2 New Year’s Eve victory over the Washington Capitals. In came the Predators (19-13-7), coached by Peter Laviolette, the man who guided the Canes to the 2006 Stanley Cup.
Victor Rask scored for Carolina in the first, and veteran forward Paul Gaustad had a shorthanded score – his first goal of the season – in the second for the Predators.
Nashville was 0-6 in overtime this season. But Ekholm, who assisted on Gaustad’s goal, came off the bench on a change, took a pass from Filip Fosberg in the right circle and beat Lack for the winner.
“It was back and forth, a tight match,” Canes center Jordan Staal said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of room, on both sides.”
The Canes and Predators faced off on opening night in Nashville, with the Canes losing both the game 2-1 and defenseman James Wisniewski to a season-ending knee injury.
The Canes were without center Jay McClement on Saturday. McClement, who had played 198 consecutive games, was a late scratch with an illness and Riley Nash was switched back to center and Brad Malone inserted into the lineup.
The Canes led 1-0 after the first Saturday. Di Giuseppe made a quick pass to Rask that got the puck out of the defensive zone, and Rask then got it to Jeff Skinner, who drove hard to the net. Rinne poked away Skinner’s shot attempt, but Rask followed with a backhander.
Rask scored 11 goals in 80 games last season as a rookie. The Swedish center now has 11 this season in 39 games.
Di Giuseppe was injured about six minutes into the second after a collision with Eric Nystrom along the boards.
At 12:35 of the second, Gaustad redirected a shot by Ekholm from the left wing for the shorthanded score.
“They pressured real hard and we weren’t able to handle the pressure as well as we needed to,” Canes center Eric Staal said. “Then there was an unfortunate bounce off a stick. …”
Malone had a shorthanded, breakaway opportunity in the second but Predators defenseman Roman Josi hustled back to prevent a shot.
Rinne, who has struggled on the road this season, had 27 saves. Lack, solid in recent wins over the Caps and Chicago Blackhawks, had 19 for the Canes.
“We had some good looks in the third period but couldn’t get one,” Eric Staal said. “You get to overtime and anything can happen.”