ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Eaves was minding his own business in the Anaheim Ducks’ upbeat dressing room when Sami Vatanen walked by and took a playful tug on his new teammate’s wild, luxuriant beard.
Eaves has only been with the Ducks for four games, but he’s already finding many remarkable ways to help Anaheim’s playoff push — and his facial hair has been ready for the postseason all winter long.
Eaves had two assists and scored the only goal of the shootout in the fifth round, and Jonathan Bernier capped a 24-save performance with a perfect shootout in the Ducks’ 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.
Eaves and Bernier were unlikely shootout heroes for the Ducks, who rallied from a pair of two-goal deficits for a key victory in their playoff surge. Eaves participated in only one previous shootout this season in Dallas, while Bernier had a .556 save percentage in shootouts.
“I’m usually a later-round shooter,” Eaves said wryly after his fifth-round assignment. “I got called in a little early tonight.”
Eaves scored a goal in two of his first three games with the Ducks, immediately adding to the most prolific offensive season of his career. He was a relentless presence in front of Pekka Rinne in this game, and he picked up the primary assists on goals by Nick Ritchie and Rickard Rakell.
“He’s been a huge help to us from the first game he got here,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who had a goal and two assists. “We just need him to keep doing what he’s doing, and he’s been an impact player for our team so far.”
Rakell scored the tying goal late in the second period for the Ducks, who have alternated wins and losses for 12 straight games since early February. Rakell leads the Ducks with 27 goals this season, but he failed to score in the shootout along with Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg.
″(Eaves) is the only one that listened to what I said: Over the pad and under the blocker,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said with a grin.
Filip Forsberg scored a short-handed goal and Rinne made 39 saves for the Predators, who have lost three straight. Colin Wilson and Ryan Ellis scored early goals as the Predators opened a three-game California road trip with their fifth straight regular-season loss at Honda Center — and this one was particularly painful.
“Tonight was different than the last two (losses),” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “The last two games, I thought we played well. Tonight we were on our heels a little bit, going through the motions of the game.”
The Ducks and Predators both began the day in third place in their respective divisions. Both need strong finishes to get back to the postseason, where Nashville eliminated Anaheim in a seven-game first-round series last spring that led to Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau’s firing.
Nashville went ahead early on James Neal’s remarkable pass to Wilson for a backhand goal, his 12th of the season.
Ellis added a power-play goal less than two minutes later, but Getzlaf trimmed Nashville’s lead late in the first period with the captain’s first goal since Feb. 20. Anaheim also snapped an 0-for-19 power play drought over the previous nine games, the longest such single-season streak in franchise history.
Forsberg’s 27th goal of his dynamite season in the second period also was his third short-handed goal and the Predators’ NHL-leading ninth short-handed tally.
But Ritchie pounced on a loose puck in the crease for his first goal since Jan. 19, ending a 17-game drought. Rakell then banked a shot off Vernon Fiddler to tie it for the Ducks with his 27th goal of a breakout season.
“They just played harder,” Ellis said of the Ducks. “They worked harder, battled harder. We didn’t deserve very much out of that game. We’re lucky we got a point there.”
NOTES: Rakell and Forsberg lead all Swedish NHL players with 27 goals apiece. ... Ducks G John Gibson missed his fifth straight game with a muscle strain. ... Anaheim’s power play was 1 for 35 over the previous 13 games.
Predators: At Kings on Thursday.
Ducks: At Blackhawks on Thursday.