When it's tough, how bad do you want it? How will you respond in a hostile environment? When the other team challenges you, how will you respond? The Nashville Predators would get a chance to answer all those questions at the Pengrowth Saddle Dome against the Calgary Flames.
Dan Ellis got the start and faced the Predators nemesis in net, Miikka Kiprusoff. Ellis was also facing a Flames team that was starting to play with a bit of desperation and frustration with their lack of goal scoring.
The first period was scoreless, but not for lack of opportunities by the Predators. They fired ten shots on net, and Kiprusoff was called upon to make some big saves to keep the Predators off the score board. The aspect of this period that was encouraging was the Predators were skating hard and cycling the puck well, thus generating quality scoring chances. Cal O'Reilly and Ryan Jones had glorious scoring chances that they could not get past Kiprusoff.
Neither team would yield in the second period as defense ruled the play. Calgary had eight shots on goal; Nashville had seven. It was not for lack of effort by either team, but both teams had a strong forecheck and solid defense which limited chances. Shots that got through were snuffed out by both goalies.
The second period has been the bane of the Predators this season, as they seem to come out of the intermission slowly and typically give up goals that force them to scramble back in to the contest. Not tonight. The Predators skated hard and were aggressive and played a solid period of hockey. The Predators put seven shots on net but could not solve Kipper.
The third period unfolded as the first two periods did, with neither goalie blinking. Ellis was aided by a post and Kiprusoff continued to make some quality saves.
That would change at 13:38 of the third, when the Predators controlled the puck in the Calgary zone. Steve Sullivan had the puck behind the net and made a great pass to Patric Hornqvist, who was driving the net. He fired the puck five hole on Kipper just as he was getting flattened by a Calgary D-man for the score. Hornqvist goal was his 19th of the year to lead the Predators. Would you have said that Hornqvist was going to lead the team in goals at this point of the year? I thought so.
Hornqvist has shown no fear going to the tough areas. Terry Crisp called the area in front of the net "Hornqvist's office" since that is where he makes his living. This requires courage and toughness, becasue Hornqvist is getting hammered by the defense every time he goes in to that area. These are the things it takes to win hockey games- the little things, the tough things. Predator hockey.
The Predators were able to choke off any Calgary threat in the remaining 6:22, and the Predators had swept all the western Canada teams on this swing. These arenas have typically been a house of horrors for the Predators. This season, they were 5-1 in their two western Canada trips.
Dan Ellis was solid in net all night, stopping all 22 shots he faced.
The points are essential- the Western Conference race is too tight to take any game lightly. The maturity and chemistry that this team is showing is, in my view, just as important. This is a team that knows that if they play their style of hockey, they have a good chance to win when they step on the ice. This is a team that has developed a grit, a resolve, that will carry them through the grind of the regular season.
The Predators are in sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference with a 29-16-3 record, good for 61 points and continually confounding the hockey pundits everywhere but in Nashville.
Bottle this effort, build on the chemistry, and keep playing the game with the resiliency and heart that you have shown. And continue to confound the critics.