Penguins beat Nashville, 3-1, to get back on track

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s not that the Penguins don’t appreciate these two points.

They understand how important they could be by the end of the regular season, when home-ice advantage for the playoffs will be determined.

But the most important aspect of their 3-1 victory against Nashville Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena wasn’t necessarily the tangible payoff they got in the standings, but how they earned it.

The Penguins (41-16-4) battled a stingy Predators team on even defensive terms, never losing patience or focus when the score was tied in the third period.

“Holding a team under 20 shots, playing a 1-1 game, a tight game, in the third, those are all things we wanted to do,” coach Dan Bylsma said.

The victory snapped a three-game winless streak (0-1-2) that matched the Penguins’ longest of this season and kept them three points ahead of Boston in the race for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen, who recorded his first two-goal game in the NHL, and Sidney Crosby, who earned three assists and should have had a fourth, were recognized as the game’s first and second stars.

Fourth-line left winger Tanner Glass didn’t get a star. Likely didn’t even get serious consideration for one, for that matter. But he set an early tone for this game that his teammates couldn’t overlook.

Glass blocked a series of shots by Predators defenseman Shea Weber — who can launch pucks with almost unrivaled velocity — on a Nashville power play in the first period, repeatedly putting himself in the line of fire.

“Three in a row on probably the hardest shot in the league,” Bylsma said.

Glass apparently was not injured by any of Weber’s shots — “Nothing got me in a place without pads,” he said — and he insisted he had no misgivings about sacrificing his body.

“You don’t even think about it when you’re out there,” he said. “You know the [Nashville] power play is set up to have him shooting the puck, and my job is to be in the shot lane.

“I know he wants to shoot it, so it’s actually sometimes easier to block it on a guy like that who you know really wants to shoot it, versus a guy who might pump-fake or go around you.”

Glass had a chance to cap his outing with an empty-net goal as time was winding down, but put his shot off the goalpost after being set up by Crosby.

“You feel like you play a good game, then you come [into the locker room] with a sour taste in our mouth because you hit the post on an empty net,” Glass said.

“Unselfish guy that he is, I knew [Crosby] was going to pass it. I’d like to have it back, but it is what it is.”

It certainly wasn’t a significant blemish on Glass’ performance.

Actually, the Penguins didn’t have many of those, in general.

They limited the Predators to 19 shots on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was beaten only by Patric Hornqvist on a rebound 39 seconds into the second period.

That was one of the few troubling sequences for the Penguins, who had taken a 1-0 lead on the first of Niskanen’s goals just 12 seconds earlier.

They kept their composure, however, and found a way to get three of their 19 shots past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.

Rinne had missed the previous 51 games because of an infection in his surgically repaired hip, but had a strong showing, beginning with a brilliant kick save on Chris Kunitz 2½ minutes into the game.

“He is a really good goalie,” Niskanen said. “He’s tough to beat.”

Well, not too tough for Niskanen in this game.

He put the Penguins in front, 1-0, with a slap shot from the right dot 27 seconds into the second period, then got the winner on a power play at 7:29 of the third. Those gave him career-best totals in goals (9) and points (37).

No less important was that first-line left winger Kunitz — who is counted on for regular offensive contributions — threw in an insurance goal at 17:05 of the third, his first goal in the past seven games.

The Kunitz goal capped a solid, if not spectacular, and satisfying performance by the Penguins.

“We talked a lot after the Chicago game [a 5-1 loss Saturday at Soldier Field] about the kind of team we want to be,” Glass said.

“The win’s important, but we need to play well in all facets of the game — specifically, defensively — and I think we did that.”

Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published March 4, 2014 10:57 PM

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