Playing the Columbus Blue Jackets is somewhat like playing a whack-a-mole game. Knock one mole down and another pops up. Such was the game against the BJ's last night in the Nashville Arena.
Nashville took a 1-0 lead against the BJ's in the first period as as Dave Scatchard knocked home a beautiful cross ice pass from Kevin Klein just four seconds after the Jacket's Derek Dorsett exited the penalty box for a holding penalty. Up to this point of the contest, both teams had been probing and looking for a weakness and neither had generated many quality scoring chances. Getting the goal from the fourth line seemed to give the Predators a lift as they turned up the offensive pressure and generated 16 SOG in that period.
The first mole to pop up for the BJ's was Kris Russell, who slipped into the low slot and roofed a shot under the crossbar that goaltender Pekka Rinne was nearly able to stop. That score was offset less than two minutes later when Martin Erat notched his 10th goal of the season to put the Preds up 2-1. Erat has been playing exceptionally well over the last 10 games, and it is good to see him start to get his mojo back.
Seven minutes later, another mole, this time Raffi Torres, scored on the power play as he squeezed a puck by Rinne on the post to tie the game at 2. Fine. That mole was whacked late in the period when Jason Arnott took a nice lead pass from Ryan Suter and skate in alone on Mathieu Garon and deftly flipped a backhand in for a 3-2 lead.
It looked as if the moles, uh, BJ's might finally be contained as the Predator offense was controlling the puck early in the third period and exerting some good pressure in the offensive zone. It looked good, that is, until Jerred Smithson was hit in the face with a high stick that created a turnover near the Columbus blue line. Several Predator players, expecting a whistle for such a blatant foul, stopped skating. Unfortunately for the Preds, the biggest mole in the BJ lineup did not. No whistle was blown and Rick Nash skated in alone on Pekka Rinne and buried the tying goal.
Okay- let's stop right here. I know that I am a Predator blogger and fan, but can someone explain to me how you can hit an opposing player in the face, the force of which knocks him to the ice, and there is no call? .... I'll wait.....What's that? Officials didn't see it? Shnikey! I hope they weren't driving themselves home.
The game remained scoreless through the rest of the period and through overtime. On to the shootout, and while Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has been very good in the shootout, Columbus goalie Garon has been exceptional, winning 13 straight. At the start of the shootout, it appeared that the odds were in favor of the BJ's, and this one time, on home ice, the mole wouldn't be whacked.
Kristian Huselius for Columbus and Marcel Goc for the Predators each scored in the first round. Rinne stymied Rick Nash and Jakub Voracek in the next two rounds while Garon stoned Martin Erat and David Legwand. Fedor Tyutin scored in the 4th round, putting the pressure on the Predators. Head Coach Barry Trotz sent Jason Arnottover the boards with the game on the line. A surprising move considering that Arnott has not taken a shot in a shootout this season. The captain was able to move the puck through Garon's five hole, continuing the shootout. Pekka Rinne then smothered Antoine Vermette's attempt, setting the stage for Steve Sullivan. The speedy winger skated in and flipped a shot over the pads of the sprawling Garon for the Predators 13th consecutive win against the BJ's in Nashville.
The vagaries of the schedule create stretches of home games and road games for all teams. It is critical that you protect your home ice and get the points in your barn. It is essential that your don't let varmints, like moles, get in create havoc. For another time, the Predators can say "Mission Accomplished". Or perhaps more appropriately, mole whacked.