'It feels good': Gagner bags hat trick, Red Wings overpower Predators 5-2

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Sam Gagner didn't score a goal in his first 13 games but made up for lost time Thursday — with a bit of help from Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.

Gagner scored two seeing-eye goals, then ended things with an empty-net goal, lifting the Red Wings to a 5-2 victory over Nashville — the five goals, a season-high for the offensively starved Wings.

BOX SCORE: Red Wings, Predators 2

Gagner scored the tiebreaker — his second goal — midway in the third period. Gagner had the puck between the goal line and circle, wheeled to his forehand and beat Rinne through the legs at 9:58.

"It certainly feels good," said Gagner of his hat trick. "We've been pushing as a group to find something to feel good about. It's obviously nice to get the win here and, hopefully, we can keep building on it."

More:Red Wings slogging through familiar struggles on offense

Gagner’s hat trick was his third in the NHL — first since Feb. 2, 2012, against Chicago when Gagner notched a career-best eight points in a game (four goals, four assists).

Despite the lack of offense this season — and Gagner hasn't been alone on this Red Wings roster in that department — Gagner has felt the goals would come. But the way it happened against Nashville even surprised him a bit.

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"I've felt like I've played pretty well this year, trying to do my part to drive play and do a lot of different things, and just not found a way to get one (goal)," Gagner said. "Then that one (first goal) goes in when I wasn't feeling like I was playing pretty well, but that's sometimes how this league works.

"You just have to remain consistent with it and create chances and make plays."

Gagner, said coach Jeff Blashill, is an example to the other younger Red Wings.

More:What's up with Danny DeKeyser, 30, and what's the Red Wings' plan moving forward?

"He's accountable," Blashill said. "He plays the right way. He's been good defensively all year and taken pride in it as he's matured as a player. He's been a good role model for our young players.

"(I like our) team game. As a team, we competed hard for each other, and at the end of the night, we have to be a team that competes extremely hard and works extraordinarily hard. We did a good job structurally. We had some breakdowns but when we did, Bernie (goaltender Jonathan Bernier) was good."

Adam Erne gave the Wings (6-13-3) some insurance with his second goal, at 16:22, making it 4-2. Again it was another sloppy rebound by Rinne off a Wings' rush, Erne easily tapping the puck past Rinne.

Gagner had the same formula on his first goal, successfully getting the puck simply on net, breaking a 1-1 tie in the second period.

Detroit Red Wings center Sam Gagner (89) and Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) celebrate after beating the Nashville Predators 5-2 in an NHL hockey game Thursday in Detroit.

Just after a Red Wings power play failed to convert — that's 14 games and 40 consecutive failed power plays — Gagner got control of the puck in the corner.

Gagner snapped a shot toward the Predators net — from a terrible angle, almost behind the net — that somehow just slipped between Rinne and the goal post.

The quirky, dirty goals were a good recipe for success for a Wings' team that has struggled to find offense.

"They all can't be pretty (goals)," Blashill said. "You get a lot of goals off chaos and dirty goals by putting pucks to the cage and getting those chaos-type goals and finding bounces. That's just the reality of it."

The Wings carried the play most of the evening, but appeared to lose some momentum after Nashville (8-11-0) tied the game 2-2 early in the period when the Predators' Erik Haula scored his first goal at 2:55 of the third period.

But Gagner's bleeder regained the Wings' lead.

"It was big for us," said Luke Glendening of the victory. "We've struggled to put the puck in the net and we battled some adversity in the game and we stuck with it. It was huge for this team.

"We see where we are in the standings, which is frustrating. But a win like this can help the confidence moving forward a little bit."

Glendening had the other Red Wings goal, while goaltender Bernier, gradually taking over the bulk of the work in net, stopped 37 shots, as the Wings split the two-game series.

Mikael Granlund (power play) had the first Predators' goal.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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