Good special teams and timely offense is usually a good recipe for success in hockey, and the Predators had both in Thursday's 3-1 win over the red hot Flames.
Calgary came to Smashville as one of the hottest teams in the league, having won 12 of it's last 14 games. But the Predators withstood a flurry of early chances to cool them off.
Pekka Rinne was his normally steady self, stopping 24 of the 25 shots he faced. He got a big assist from the Predators' penalty kill unit, which came away unscathed from all four of the Flames' stints with the man advantage.
"We went to the box too much, but our penalty kill was great," Rinne said.
Nashville managed just 17 shots on goal in the game, but it made them count. Early in the second period Craig Smith made a great pass from behind the net to Calle Jarnkrok for his 15th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead. It was Smith's third assist in the past two games as he seemingly is snapping out of a season-long offensive funk at the right time.
Just over 2:00 later Colton Sissons cashed in on his return to the lineup, pounding home a Colin Wilson pass for a 2-0 lead.
The Predators managed just one shot over the next 19:00, while fighting off three penalties. But thanks to Rinne and the penalty kill still held a 2-1 lead.
Ryan Ellis then put the game away with a wicked wrister from the slot with 8:00 to go. The goal was Ellis's third in the last two games and gives him a career-high 15 for the season.
On a team with All-Stars like P.K. Subban and Roman Josi on the blue line, Ellis often gets overlooked by NHL media. But for those who have watched closely, he has been arguably this team's best player this year, and is a huge reason they're playing well down the stretch.
The Predators have now won five of their last six games, keeping pace with the Blues in the Central Division. Both teams sit at 85 points with nine games left, and with St. Louis owning the tiebreaker, Nashville will need to move in front of the Blues in the standings to get the Central Division's third seed.
Another tough game awaits Saturday with the Pacific Division leading Sharks coming to Bridgestone Arena, but the Predators look ready for the challenge.
The playoffs are approaching, and the Preds are playing their best hockey of the year.