PITTSBURGH (AP) Tristan Jarry typically speaks in a monotone, symbolic of a goaltender who when he's at his best takes a boring, almost zen-like approach to his job.
It was telling earlier this week, however, when the two-time All-Star for the Pittsburgh Penguins took exception when asked if he was worried he has become injury prone after three months of health issues and erratic play.
Jarry's terse reply - that he has been durable most of his four full seasons in the NHL - was a little out of character. It also, however, revealed an edge that lies just underneath the surface.
It's an edge the Penguins need down the stretch. It's one he provided in a 2-0 victory over Nashville on Thursday night that preserved Pittsburgh's tenuous grasp on the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Steady at the start and stoic at the finish, Jarry turned aside all 27 shots he faced while posting his 13th career shutout as the Penguins remained one point in front of Florida for the final playoff berth in the East. Pittsburgh has seven games remaining. The Panthers have six.
Jarry pointed to a week on the bench facilitated by a minor lower-body injury and solid play by backup Case DeSmith as a chance to hit the reset button and focus on his craft.
“Any time you can get away from it a little bit, it takes a little stress off you and you’re able to just prepare your game and kind of work on the things you need to in practice,” Jarry said.
Jarry certainly looked prepared in his 200th NHL appearance while outdueling Nashville's Jusse Saros. Saros was spectacular at times while making 43 saves. It just wasn't enough for the injury-depleted Predators to bookend a stirring upset over NHL-leading Boston on Tuesday.
“It was a tough night for us,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. "Credit Pittsburgh, they put pressure on us. ... We didn’t test Jarry a lot, but we did get some good looks and he made some big saves for them.”
Jason Zucker scored his 26th goal in the second period to give Jarry all the help he would need. Jake Guentzel provided some breathing room with a power-play goal in the later stages of the third period.
Saros has been one of the reasons Nashville remains in the mix for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference even after a sell-off at the trade deadline. The Predators are stockpiling picks gearing for the future while playing without stars Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi, among others.
It's not that way in Pittsburgh, which is still trying to prop the Stanley Cup window open a little longer for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. The core of a franchise that has reached the postseason 16 straight years hardly looks like they're slowing down. It's nearly everywhere else - including depth scoring and goaltending - that has the Penguins sweating out a shot at the playoffs.
Zucker, Pittsburgh's most consistently emotionally engaged player this season, finally broke through in the later stages of the second period, though his 26th goal was also among his easiest.
Instead, it was the unlikely hands of Dumoulin who did most of the work. Not exactly known for his offensive ability, Dumoulin sprinted down the slot and took a pass from Evgeni Malkin before dangling the puck around a sliding Predator and slipping a pass to Zucker at the doorstep. Zucker tapped it in to give the Penguins the lead.
“I trusted it the whole time,” Zucker said with a laugh. "I knew he was going to go toe drag, back door tap in. I told him I was just waiting for it.”
Pittsburgh has struggled at times of late when ahead in the third period. Not this time. Jarry's stop on Philip Tomasino marked the last legitimate threat by the Predators and when Guentzel redirected a nice pass from Rickard Rakell by Saros with 6:57 remaining, the Penguins were on their way to preserving their slim advantage in the wild-card race.
Predators: Welcome St. Louis to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday.
Penguins: Host the NHL-leading Boston Bruins on Saturday.
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