A ustin Watson wasn’t even sure that the puck made it to the net.
“It was incredible,” Watson said. “I wasn’t sure – I shot it through a screen, so I didn’t really know and just based it off of the fans’ reaction, but it’s exciting. It’s a milestone and it’s great to experience here at home.”
At 3:17 of the third period in Nashville’s game against Calgary on Tuesday night, the rookie Watson found the back of the net for the first time in his young NHL career. On a night when the Predators were playing their home finale at Bridgestone Arena in a season in which the playoffs have long been out of the picture, Watson gave the sellout crowd something to smile about.
“It’s incredible,” Watson said. “We gave the fans something to cheer about at the end of the game. They’ve been supporting us and they’ve been incredible, which I’ve seen since I’ve been here. To see how excited they were for a great win tonight was pretty special.”
“I didn’t know what to think. It was kind of crazy. I kind of blacked out a little bit and got pretty excited. It’s one of those things that I’ll never get to experience again, so it was pretty awesome.”
The goal came on a play that was initiated by forward Craig Smith, who earned the first assist on the goal, which beat Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff.
“It was a great look,” Watson said. “He sucked in the 2 d and popped it over to me. If that doesn’t happen – and Klein driving the net, too – if those two things don’t happen, we don’t get a shot there.”
Watson’s goal gave the Predators a 3-2 lead. Nashville would extend the lead to 4 and hold on to snap a franchise-record 8-game losing streak by defeating the Flames 4-3.
“It was huge for us and it was great to contribute to a win,” Watson said. “That was awesome to have in front of fans on the last home game.”
Drafted in the first round by the Predators in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Watson made his NHL debut on April 7 at Chicago. The Michigan native skipped the NCAA route and played 4 seasons of Major Junior in Canada before joining the Milwaukee Admirals this season. In his five NHL games prior to scoring his first goal, Watson had just two shots on net and had yet to register a point.
While he obviously wanted to contribute to the team’s scoring sooner rather than later, Watson had to remind himself to be patient.
“‘Stay the course’ is the biggest thing,” Watson said. “It’s not going to come if you start pushing for it too hard and start getting frustrated. We just wanted to play a good solid game and be good defensively and whatever happens that we can create offensively would happen.”
Since coming to the NHL, Watson and a few other eligible players have been shuttling back-and-forth between Nashville and Milwaukee. Unlike the Predators, the Admirals were in a playoff push and have qualified for the AHL postseason. Watson has not only appeared in 6 NHL games since April 7, he’s also appeared in 4 AHL games. That’s 10 games in 17 days. It would be easy to understand if his play was somehow lethargic, but he is not.
“I have a little bit of an adrenaline rush right now,” Watson said. “We’re happy with the win, obviously. Personally it’s an exciting moment and we’ll get ready for Detroit (on Thursday).”
Essentially, Watson is playing for two teams right now. He’s trying to close out the season with the Predators and when the season ends Saturday, he will help the Admirals in their playoff matchup against the Texas Stars.
“The systems are fairly similar,” Watson said. “There are changes here and there, but it’s about playing hard and playing wherever you’re at. We’ve got a good group of guys here that help us out, the guys who are coming back and forth. We’re just trying to make a difference in both places.”
Nashville’s David Legwand scored his 200th career goal on a night when Watson scored his first. The veteran forward was optimistic about what Watson will bring to the table for Nashville in coming years.
“He’s a big strong kid,” Legwand said. “Shooting pucks and getting pucks to the net is a big thing and he did a good job of that tonight.”
“Getting pucks to the net and playing a simple game is what he’s going to bring to the table for us,” he added.
As for the puck itself, one of Watson’s teammates snagged it from the net.
“I think Clune grabbed it and that’s a nice gesture by him,” Watson said. “Everybody has been great here just helping me to try to get comfortable.”
In the end Watson’s goal was the first of what Nashville hopes will be very, very many in the future.
“It’s something you dream about and it’s even better than the dream when it finally does happen,” Watson said.
Photo Credit: Rachel Rosato