NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Matt Duchene was feeling a bit nervous before his debut with Nashville. A misstep in the pregame warmup helped the Predators’ new free agent feel more at ease.
As the warmup came to an end, Duchene was the last Predators player on the ice. He caught an edge and fell in the right faceoff circle. From his backside, he fired a puck into the net, much to the delight of the sellout crowd, who cheered the new center.
“That was my best 1972 Phil Esposito impression,” Duchene said. “It gave the fans a good laugh. Honestly, it took a little bit of butterflies out of me. I got a good laugh and you’ve got to laugh at yourself sometimes.”
Duchene finished with three assists, Ryan Ellis and Filip Forsberg each had a goal and an assist and Nashville rallied with four goals in the final period and beat the Minnesota Wild 5-2 on Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.
Mikael Granlund, Austin Watson and Viktor Arvidsson also scored for the defending Central Division champion Predators.
Duchene signed a seven-year, $56 million deal with Nashville as a free agent this offseason.
“I think for him, if you ask him, this is his home,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “Nashville is his home. He wants to be here. He wants this to be a place where he thrives. He’s bringing that to work right now, and it really shows.”
Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba scored for Minnesota.
“We played a solid game,” Minnesota forward Mats Zuccarello said. “We created a bunch of chances. We could have scored two, three more goals, but that’s hockey for you. A few mistakes ended up in the back of the net and that’s the game.”
Zuccarello signed a five-year, $30 million contract on July 1 with the Wild.
Nashville trailed 2-1 entering the final period before Granlund and Watson scored at 27 seconds and 1:56, respectively, to put the Predators ahead for good. Granlund tipped home a slap shot by Roman Josi and Watson tipped in a shot by Ellis.
Ellis scored the game’s first goal at 3:37 of the second period.
As Ellis skated down from the right point, Forsberg sent a pass his way. The puck deflected off of Ellis’ skate and trickled by Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
“I thought for the most part we outplayed them in the first two periods,” Ellis said. “They got a push. Give them credit, they worked hard too, but overall, I liked our game more.”
Dubnyk finished with 27 saves.
Earlier in the second, Dubnyk robbed former Wild teammate Granlund with an impressive glove save. Moving right to left, Dubnyk made a sweeping glove stop on Granlund’s one-timer from the right faceoff dot.
Nashville had an apparent power-play goal waived off after a video review determined Granlund made contact with the puck with a high stick.
Minnesota took the lead with two goals in a 43-second span in the second.
Zucker struck first at 16:04 on the power play.
Former Predator Brad Hunt’s slap shot from the right point was deflected by Nashville’s Nick Bonino and then glanced off of Zucker’s jersey and past Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne high to the stick side.
“When we started doing what we were supposed to do, we started creating opportunities,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We were just giving the puck away too much in the neutral zone to that team. That’s what they thrive on.”
Dumba pounced on a rebound and blasted it by Rinne at 16:47.
Rinne finished with 22 saves.
Shortly after Watson put Nashville up 3-2 early in the third, Rinne made a pair of stellar saves on Zucker 30 seconds apart. The Finn denied Zucker on a breakaway at 4:45 and then gloved a backhand from in close 30 seconds later.
Arvidsson scored his first of the season at 7:32 of the third. The Swede set a Nashville franchise record with 34 goals last season.
Forsberg added an empty-net goal late in the third to account for the final margin.
NOTES: Country music superstar Keith Urban performed for the crowd during the first intermission. Urban’s wife, actress Nicole Kidman, also attended the game. … Nashville C Craig Smith recorded an assist in the game, his 300th career NHL point. … Dumba missed Minnesota’s last 50 games last season due to a torn pectoralis muscle.
Wild: Visit the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
Predators: Host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
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