Juuse Saros makes 39 saves as Predators beat Panthers 4-1

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NASHVILLE — Juuse Saros made 39 saves, and the Nashville Predators beat the Florida Panthers 4-1 Monday night to hold onto their slim hold on the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division.

Saros improved to 13-4-1 in his last 18 starts. He has the most wins among NHL goalies since March 18 and helped the Predators stay two points ahead of Dallas by beating Florida for the first time this season in Nashville.

Nick Cousins scored the go-ahead goal in the second period. Yakov Trenin and Erik Haula each scored a goal in the third, and Mikael Granlund had a power-play goal for Nashville, which won its second straight.

Sam Bennett scored for Florida, which needed to beat Nashville in any fashion to clinch the seventh playoff berth in franchise history. The Panthers trail Carolina by two points for the top spot in the Central after being held to just one goal for for the first time since April 10 — a span of seven games where they went 5-1-1.

Florida went up 1-0 when Anthony Duclair's hot went off Bennett's left foot on a delayed penalty at 4:49 of the first for his fourth goal in five games. But Nashville answered quickly when Granlund tipped Roman Josi's shot and shoved in the rebound past Panthers goalie Chris Driedger's right skate on the power play at 6:30.

The Panthers took the first six shots to open the second. But the Predators grabbed a 2-1 lead when Cousins' snap shot beat Driedger off a pass from Erik Haula on Nashville's first shot of the period.

Sergei Bobrovsky replaced Driedger with 4:55 left in the second, and the Panthers said Driedger would not return with a lower-body injury. Yet the Panthers couldn't get the puck past Saros despite outshooting Nashville 22-5 in the period.

Haula padded Nashville's lead with a snap shot off a pass from Matt Duchene at 2:39 of the third, and Trenin made it 4-1 scoring in front of the crease with 9:12 left — about a minute or so after Dallas beat Carolina.

POWER PLAY DROUGHT ENDS

Prior to Granlund’s first period power-play goal, the Predators had not scored with the man-advantage in their previous nine games, going 0-23 over that span.

After struggling to score on the power play for most of the season, Nashville’s success rate improved with the emergence of rookie Eeli Tolvanen. On the season, six of Tolvanen’s 11 goals have come on the power play. He missed the first seven of the team’s nine-game stretch without a power-play goal due to a lower-body injury.

Nashville entered Monday with the NHL’s 25th best power play, connecting on 17.7 per cent of its opportunities.

CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN

Josi's assist tied him with Shea Weber for third on the team’s all-time points list with 443 (115 goals-328 assists).

UP NEXT

These teams wrap up their season series Tuesday night with Nashville having a chance to even the season series.

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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press