Friday, December 4, 2009

Predators Show Heart, Thump Hawks

A Predators team that had misfired in their past two games faced the superior talent of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. If you were a betting man, your money would be on the Hawks in this one. The Predators defied the odds and bested the Hawks by a 4-1 score. Perhaps you can borrow a few bucks from Patrick Kane.

Jonathan Toews opened the scoring for the Hawks with a highlight reel goal as he undressed defenseman Dan Hamhuis with a sick move and slid the puck past a sprawling Dan Ellis. Although the Hawks swarmed the net, especially in the third period, they were unable to get another puck past Ellis. who stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced. Chicago had several glorious chances, but were foiled by Ellis, good defense by the Predators, and the occasional lucky bounce for the Preds.

Ellis is going to be called upon to play some big games for the Predators as they have a number of back to back games with the compressed schedule. Ellis has shown that he can be a solid goaltender, and tonight he was at the top of his game.

The aforementioned Dan Hamhuis got the Predators on the board in the first period with a rocket from the blue line that got past a screened Cristobal Huet. The period ended with the score tied at one, but the talent of the Hawks was on display. They created several quality chances with their speed and puck movement, but, fortunately for the Preds, were unable to find the net.

The only goal of the second period was scored by Martin Erat as he deflected a shot by Jordin Tootoo past Huet. Erat's goal was his fifth of the season. Erat has stepped up his play over the past seven games, and he must continue to play at this higher level for the team to be successful.

Nursing a one goal lead going in to the third period, the Predators couldn't feel safe. Chicago unleashed a furious assault on the Predators net, and Ellis was up to the task. Admittedly, Chicago misfired on several glorious scoring chances, and the Predator D was scrambling a lot. The Predators refused to buckle under the pressure, showing tremendous resilience and grit.

Jordin Tootoo gave the Predators breathing room at 17:57 of the third period when he slapped a rebound from the low slot to make the lead 3-1. Although Tootoo has not tallied many goals, his speed and desire have been evident, and his play has lifted his team mates. Just :35 seconds later, Joel Ward was the beneficiary of a nice feed from David Legwand on a two on one break and slid the puck under the pads of Huet. Chicago could not mount a serious scoring threat after that goal, and the Predators left the United Center with a huge win.

Notice the names on the score sheet? Hamhuis, Erat, Tootoo, Ward. Scoring by committee. That is the Predator way. Unrelenting effort, consistency in all zones, grit- these summarize the characteristics of the predator hockey club. No, this team will not spend like the Hawks. This team will compete like the Hawks. Not with dollars, but with heart.

One big win doesn't make a season. One big win can define a team, however, and give them the confidence to continue to push toward the playoffs. The Predators, small market and small payroll, are three points behind the Hawks in the Central Division. They have won 13 of their last 18 games. They have played with heart and with grit. They have played Predator hockey. And tonight, Predator hockey thumped the Hawks.

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