Matt Duchene has never scored 40 goals in a season. The Nashville Predators have never had a 40-goal scorer in their history.

Last night in Nashville, that all changed.

With 7:51 left in the 2nd period, Matt Duchene went to the front of the net with the puck. He put a shot on Calgary goaltender Dan Vladar, who made the save, but the puck bounced away and went into the net off a Calgary defenseman.

A lucky bounce? A product of Duchene’s hardwork? Divine intervention?

Whatever you call it, it’s the 40th goal attributed to Matt Duchene this season and it goes down in the record books.

“It’s kind of funny that’s the one that ended up going in,” Duchene said after the game. “You need luck sometimes, that was definitely my luckiest of the year. But I’ll take it all day.”

The fact that the puck didn’t actually go in off Duchene’s stick didn’t seem to bother the 17,000 plus crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Their raucous reaction after Paul McCann’s goal announcement, of course lingering on the “40th goal of the year” indication, showed how much the Preds fans have enjoyed Duchene’s production this year.

“The reaction from the crowd when they announced it, for me I was still locked into the game. But it’s one of those things like you said that you kind of enjoy it after the year. The reaction from the crowd was unbelievable. Made me a little emotional on the bench for sure. I wanted to give a way and just stay into the game and stay seated. But they made it hard not to feel that moment a little bit.”

Duchene’s 40th goal also gave the Preds a 2-0 lead over the Pacific-leading Calgary Flames. And though the Flames eventually tied the game in the 3rd period, sending the game to overtime, the Preds came out on top after a Mikael Granlund shootout goal and three Juuse Saros shootout saves.

The two points puts Nashville at 93 points, two points ahead of Dallas for the 1st wildcard spot and six points ahead of the fading Vegas Golden Knights.

Preds inch closer to playoffs

Outside of the 40-goal milestone, last night was also a huge win for the Preds. They badly needed to recover from a disastrous 8-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, not to mention keep the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights at bay.

With the win, the Preds’ playoff odds are now at 97% according to Money Puck, after having dropped below 90% after Sunday’s loss. Nashville received some help on Monday as the Golden Knights lost to the New Jersey Devils and the Stars lost to the Vancouver Canucks, but they also got the job done on home ice against the Flames.

“I think this is a stressful time for us,” Duchene said of the playoff race. “We’re likely not going to move up a spot. It’s tough being the hunted. We’re at our best when we’re hunters. We’ve just got to have that mindset regardless of where we are in the standings. We’re probably not going to catch anyone in front of us, but we’ve gotta keep looking out in front of us and not in the rear view mirror. If we look in the rear view mirror, the inconsistencies come like they have a little bit lately. That’s the mindset we have going forward in the last five games, I thought we had that tonight.”

One interesting aspect of last night’s win is that it came over the Predators’ most likely first round opponent. If the Preds make the playoffs, there’s a 65% chance it will be against Calgary and a 33% chance it will be against Colorado.

Though there wasn’t a ton of playoff intensity in the building from a playing standpoint, Duchene compared it to the pre-fight weigh-in of a boxing match.

“It was almost like when you see the ‘pre-fight’ of the weigh-in of two fighters, you get the jawing and the lipping and the odd thing going there. It kind of had that feel to it. I thought both teams held punches back at times, not literally, but just in terms of the way we played. Teams respected each other a lot, it was a chess match, it wasn’t a checkers game out there. I felt like it was a good re-introduction to them. We’re gonna see them again in a week and then potentially in the playoffs. Potentially a lot of games left between us.”

The Preds play the Flames next Tuesday, again at Bridgestone Arena. If last night is any indication, it will be another low scoring, defensive affair. The Preds did a good job last night of preventing the Flames from their bread and butter: flooding the zone with shots.

Calgary finished last night with a season low 21 shots on goal. Credit the Nashville defense and hard work in the middle of the ice to prevent the Flames from gaining advantage where they like to work.

If you’ve been paying attention to the Preds this year, you know scoring records, like the one set last night, are not new. Roman Josi’s push for a 100-point season, Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene both setting single season goal records, Tanner Jeannot pushing for the rookie goals record. All of it is impressive, not to mention a welcomed site for Preds fans that grew bored of the team’s weak offense over the last couple seasons.

But if the Preds want to make the playoffs, and if they want a chance to beat their most likely first round opponent, they will need to keep up the defensive hard work. Goal and scoring milestones are fun, but playoff wins are better.

“It’s not done yet, we have work to do,” Duchene warned after the big win. “The character and the family vibe we have in that room is so awesome. And if you have that, you can do anything. We’re a hard working team, we play the game the way the game is supposed to be played. We’re an offensive team and an offensive threat, but we play very solid defensively and we’ve got a great goaltender. We’ve got the ability to do whatever we want to do and it’s about being mature enough and strong enough mentally.”

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —