It would be easy to overlook the Carolina Hurricanes if you were the Nashville Predators. An Eastern Conference opponent sandwiched in between Western Conference tilts. An opponent that frankly had been awful on the road. An opponent that was icing a depleted lineup. Yes, easy to overlook. And if not careful, an opponent that could do some damage to the Predators.
Carolina showed early on that they were here to play. Rod Brind'Amour gave the Canes a 1-0 lead at 2:52 of the first period when he slipped a rebound of a Jerome Sansom shot through Pekka Rinne's pads.
The first period then degenerated into a penalty fest as 14 minutes of penalties were assessed in the period. The Predators began to swing momentum their way as they killed off a Canes power play. With Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Suter in the box, Carolina looked to pad their lead and make the Predators climb out of another hole.Matt Cullen, however, was called for tripping Kevin Klein to negate the two man advantage, and the Predators were able to stave off the Canes while on the PK.
Just as Cullen was coming out of the box, J.P. Dumont skated in and fired a wrister five hole on Cam Ward for a short handed goal to tie the game, and the Predators had seized the momentum. Dumont skated hard tonight, and had a goal and an assist. A key player stepping up when the Predators needed it desperately.
With Cullen back in the box for another penalty, Patric Hornqvist corralled a rebound of a Shea Weber slap shot at the side of the net and knocked it in for his 15th goal of the year at 19:36 of the first. Hornqvist makes his living around the net, and tonight was a man around the crease, battling for position and pucks. Stepping up and doing the dirty work, the things that are necessary for this team to win games.
Hornqvist continued to assert himself, and at 18:50 of the second skated the puck out from behind the net and found Steve Sullivan alone in the low slot. Sullivan found the top right corner over Ward's glove, and the Predators capped off a solid second period with a two goal lead.
Hornqvist continued his strong play when J.P. Dumont found him alone in the slot and he blistered a shot past Ward at 11:16 of the third for his 16th goal. For the game, Hornqvist had 20:00 of ice time, two goals, an assist, and six PIM's. Tonight, Hornqvist dominated the ice and played a stellar game. He stepped up when the team needed someone to step up.
Carolina cut the margin to 4-2 with a shorthanded goal by Tom Kostopolous at 12:03 of the third, but never mounted a serious threat after that as the defense clamped down on the Canes and Pekka Rinne cleaned up any scoring chances.
There was a scary moment for the Predators and for Steve Sullivan as he was boarded by Andrew Alberts at 11:03 of the third. Sullivan lay motionless on the ice for several minutes and was assisted off the ice by the training staff and escorted to the locker room. He appeared to injure his shoulder, and x-rays were being taken. Head Coach Barry Trotz said after the game that it did not appear to be very serious, but that Sully would probably miss at least the Anaheim game on Saturday.
This was the kind of game that could have easily been a devastating loss for the Predators. Key players out of the lineup; rookies being plugged in to critical roles; an early deficit. This team fought and won an important victory. Players stepped up and put the team on their back. Players that needed to step up did just that. This team played Predator hockey and put another win in the books.
This game was not pretty or well played by any stretch. The Predators were very sloppy at times. There were defensive breakdowns. Pekka Rinne had to bail out the team on several occasions. Play this way against a healthy opponent and the outcome will be different. Play has to improve for this team to win against the opponents they will face in the next few days on their schedule.
The aspect of this game that this team can build upon is the fact that with a depleted lineup, they still played winning hockey. They fought and battled. They overcame a deficit, numerous penalties, and sometimes erratic play.
Every team goes through a stretch where the hockey is a grind, where the games pile up and they face adversity. This was one of those games. There will be more. They showed the heart, the drive, the determination to win a game they could have easily lost.
The battles continue, the grind gets no easier. This is the nature of this beautiful game. This is the opportunity for a player, and a team, to show their character and fight for the win. Time to keep fighting. time to chop down another opponent.