It was just the fourth game in an 82-game regular season, but the Nashville Predators had a little extra incentive for Thursday night's visit from the Winnipeg Jets.
In their first meeting since Winnipeg knocked them out of the Western Conference semifinals last spring with a 5-1 Game 7 decision, Nashville pieced together its best game of the young season, getting Pekka Rinne's 52nd career shutout in a 3-0 decision.
"It's Winnipeg, you know, we just lost against them in the playoffs and you could sense that," Rinne said. "There was a lot of emotion on the ice. I thought the first period was the fastest hockey so far this year."
Now the Predators try to replicate that performance Saturday night when they continue their four-game homestand against the New York Islanders.
Nashville (3-1-0) did everything right against Winnipeg except convert on the power play, where it was a miserable 0 of 9. Otherwise, the Predators mostly carried the play, outshooting the Jets 30-29, a narrow advantage in the faceoff dot (28-27) and frustrating the Jets into taking a full game's worth of penalty minutes.
The sequence that symbolized the game occurred late in the second period after a stretch of chippy play erupted into a line brawl. Unlikely combatants such as defenseman Mattias Ekholm, who hadn't fought in seven years before Thursday night's fisticuffs with Blake Wheeler, and speedy Winnipeg forward Nikolaj Ehlers dropped their gloves and threw bombs.
Afterward, Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said by the end of the second period, half his bench was gassed and the other half was drinking hot chocolate to stay warm.
"I think we did a good job playing whistle-to-whistle hockey and playing a clean, hard game," Predators center Ryan Johansen said, "and we definitely frustrated them a bit."
Johansen finished the Jets with a brilliant goal late in the third period, getting behind a defender and deftly roofing a close-range backhander over goalie Connor Hellebuyck for his first goal of the season.
While Nashville was exerting itself for a full 60 minutes in what's becoming one of the NHL's best rivalries, New York (2-1-0) was cooling its heels, as it has done since Monday's 4-0 blanking of San Jose at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Three games is clearly a small sample size, but it appears the Islanders are buying into new coach Barry Trotz's system. They were physical and defense-oriented against the Sharks, outhitting them 21-9 and registering 23 blocked shots in front of goalie Robin Lehner, who stopped 35 shots in his first game with the team.
"Talk about a team win," Trotz said. "I think you had everyone in the right place. We had some skill guys score on the power play, you had your penalty killers and guys defending with commitment at the end, and Robin was making good saves. I thought everyone contributed through the lineup."
This is the first of a four-game western road trip for New York. It could get forward Andrew Ladd back in the lineup as soon as Saturday. He has missed the first three games with an injury sustained during an intersquad scrimmage in training camp.
The Islanders and Predators met Oct. 6 in Brooklyn, with Nashville prevailing 4-3 behind two goals from Viktor Arvidsson.