NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville Predators are trying to stay close enough in the playoff chase to be where they need to be when the season ends.
Rocco Grimaldi scored in the eighth round of the shootout, and the Predators beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 Saturday night to pull within a point behind Winnipeg for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, with two games in hand on the Jets.
Grimaldi said it’s been a roller-coaster ride for the Predators, who won the Central Division each of the past two seasons but have been outside the playoff picture since Nov. 13. They now have points in five of their last six games.
“It’s just crazy to think that we’re still like right there and we got games in hand too, which is great,” Grimaldi said. “Sometimes that’s what happens. So if we’re not in a playoff spot in game 81 and we are in game 82, that’s fine.”
Colton Sissons, Ryan Johansen and Mikael Granlund each scored, and Filip Forsberg had two assists for Nashville, which snapped a two-game skid.
Pierre-Luc Dubois and Forsberg each scored to open the shootout. Gustav Nyquist scored in the fourth round for Columbus only to see Ryan Ellis score to keep the shootout going until Grimaldi finally ended it putting a backhander top shelf over Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins.
Goalie Juuse Saros made 40 saves, not counting six in the shootout, for the win.
“The fact we gave up the lead but we found a way to tie it and dig in in the third period and find a way to win the game obviously in the shootout, a step in the right direction,” Nashville coach John Hynes said.
Boone Jenner, Eric Robinson and Emil Bemstrom each scored in the second for Columbus. The banged-up Blue Jackets fell out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild card and now are 0-3-5 over their last eight games. Five of the last seven have gone past regulation.
“We’re not looking at it’s a loss tonight,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “We haven’t looked at it that way at all. We’re just trying to scratch for points. I give our team a tremendous amount of respect tonight as far as how they handled themselves.”
The Blue Jackets had the advantage of arriving in Nashville on Friday, while the Predators lost 2-1 in overtime in Chicago and had to travel back to Tennessee.
This started a crucial five-game home stand for the Predators who are trying to claw their way into the playoff picture having not missed the postseason since 2014. Nashville already swapped coaches in early January, firing Peter Laviolette and hiring Hynes a day later. Hynes mixed up his lines again, this time putting Johansen on the third line with Colin Blackwell and Austin Watson.
Johansen responded almost immediately, scoring 33 seconds into the game tapping in the rebound of a shot from defenseman Ryan Ellis. That was just his 13th goal this season. Granlund made it 2-0 at 10:31, scoring his 15th off a 2-on-1 rush with Forsberg passing the puck across the slot for Granlund’s wrister over a diving Merzlikins.
Columbus dominated the second, outshooting Nashville 20-10 in the period with three goals.
Jenner pulled Columbus within 2-1 a minute into the second with a backhand off the rebound, and Robinson tied it up at 4:50 with a snap shot from the high slot that queezed between Saros’ stick-side and the post. Nashville forward Viktor Arvidsson went to the box for putting the puck over the glass with 2:52 left in the second. Bemstrom scored 13 seconds later with a wrister from the right circle for a 3-2 lead.
Forsberg shot from the side boards, and Sissons deflected the puck past Merzlikins’ glove tying it up with 63 seconds left in the period with his first goal since Dec. 12.
NOTES: The Predators added a defenseman shortly before the game, trading forward Miikka Salomaki to Toronto for Ben Harpur. … Granlund’s goal was his ninth since Nashville made the coaching change. … Ellis’ assist was his first point since missing 20 games with a concussion. He returned to the lineup Friday night. … Granlund now has nine goals and 12 points over his last 20 games.
Columbus hosts Ottawa on Monday night.
Nashville hosts Ottawa on Tuesday night.
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