Sunday, December 20, 2009

Predators On Fire, Down Flames 5-3

On November 30th, the Flames came to Nashville and dominated the Predators 5-0. Yesterday, the Predators returned the favor at the Pengrowth Saddle Dome, besting the Flames by a 5-3 margin to continue their torrid play of late. Since that loss in Nashville, the Predators are 7-1-2, and 22-11-3 overall.

The Predators have shown an annoying habit of starting slow and battling their way back to win games. Against Calgary, the Predators reversed course and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. MartinErat opened the scoring with a wrister from the low slot off an assist from Marcel Goc and Jerred Smithson. David Legwand scored in front of the net as he tipped a shot past Mikka Kiprusoff, and both of the Predator goals were the result of players going to the front of the net to fight for space and gather rebounds in prime scoring territory.

Calgary cut the margin to 2-1 on a power play goal by Dion Phaneuf at 13:41 of the first period, and that score stood for the remainder of the period.

In the second period, Calgary came out flying and controlled play for much of the period. Jerome Iginla lasered a shot past Dan Ellis, who was getting his second consecutive start in goal for the Predators. Iginla made the Predators pay for a horrible turnover by Dan Hamhuis as he fired a shot at Ellis, who made the initial stop. The rebound caromed back to Iginla, who beat Ellis when his shot banked off a sliding Dan Hamhuis, who was attempting to get back in to the play, and in to the open side of the net.

Momentum was now Calgary's, and they applied pressure on the Predators and generated several quality scoring opportunities. Fortunately, Ellis was strong in the net and held the Flames off the scoresheet.

The Predators grabbed the momentum back from the Flames at the 17:10 point of the second when Marcel Goc potted his sixth goal of the season to tie the game at 3. Goc has blossomed into a quality addition for the Predators, and spent much of the night centering the first line of Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan with Jason Arnott scratched for this game with an upper body injury. Goc has played solid minutes for the Preds and has been very versatile while beginning to show the promise that San Jose saw in him when he was drafted by the Sharks.

Going in to the third period tied at 3, it was anyone's game. In times past, the Predators would not have matched the intensity and pressure of their opponent. That was then. The Flames brought the pressure and the intensity. The Predators matched it and did not fold with the game on the line.

Cody Franson gave the Predators a 4-3 lead with a wrist shot from the blue line that eluded Kiprusoff. Calgary came back with a vengeance and were storming the net, but Dan Ellis was equal to the task. Dave Scatchard iced the win for the Predators with an empty netter at 19:34, and the Predators had their first win in the last six games against the Flames.

The Predators win tied them for first in the Western Conference with 47 points. Yes, you read that correctly. Tied for first in the Western Conference! A team that many thought would have no offense and would be out of the playoff race by the end of November.

This team is where it is because of heart and grit. This team is where it is because they play their game and not the game that makes highlight reels. They shoot the puck, they crash the net, they get rebounds into the goal.  Not pretty. Not fancy. But winning hockey.

It's a long season, and there is a lot of hockey to play. This is a team that is playing hockey for the long haul. Gritty hockey. Refuse to buckle hockey. And this is a team that is on fire.

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