The Nashville Predators garnered a much needed win over the New York Rangers by a 2-1 margin in a game that ebbed back and forth with neither team taking control of the contest. In a game that could have gone either way, the Predators prevailed to pick up two critical points in Madison Square Garden in front of a crowd of approximately 7,000 hardy fans that braved a major winter snow storm.
Dan Ellis got the start in net and played brilliantly for the Predators, making 37 saves and holding off the Rangers for the last 1:30 of the contest when they had a 6 on 5 advantage due to pulling Henrik Lundqvist. Ellis looked calm in net despite the pressure and made some excellent saves to keep the Predators in the game. When Ellis is on his game, like he was tonight, he is very good. He exuded confidence in net and cleaned up any mistakes that the defense made in front of him. he was especially sharp stopping a breakaway attempt in the first period.
The Predators got on the board first when Jordin Tootoo redirected a shot by Kevin Klein past Lundqvist at 17:45 of the first period. For the night, Tootoo played a solid game, establishing a strong net presence on the goal and a consistent forecheck.
The Rangers tied the game on a five on three power play at the 9:48 mark of the second period. Marty Erat was called for a phantom tripping call, and one minute into the penalty kill, Steve Sullivan was called for slashing. Vinny Prospal scored with three seconds left on Erat's penalty to tie the game as Ellis couldn't control the puck and Prospal scored from the low slot.
Colin Wilson tallied his second goal of the season and the game winner at the 16:10 mark of the second period on the power play with Michael Del Zotto in the box for a double minor. His goal was unassisted and resulted from his work around the net as he gathered in a loose puck and wristed a shot past Lundqvist.
The Predators had several glorious scoring opportunities in the second period, including four breakaways, but couldn't put a puck past Lundqvist. For a time, it appeared that the Preds were going to be stymied by a hot goalie until Wilson was able to solve King Henrik on the power play.
Again, enough cannot be said about the play of Ellis tonight. He made several key stops in the course of the game and was able to thwart the scoring chances of the Rangers. Just as goalies such as Nabokov have stolen points against the Predators, tonight Ellis was able to steal points from the Rangers.
There are some observations that I think should be made about the play of the Predators tonight. For a team that has some seasoned veterans such as the Preds, we made some plays that were, well stupid. Failing to clear the puck from the defensive zone nearly cost us on several occasions. Particularly egregious in this area was J.P. Dumont, who attempted several blind clearing passes only to give the puck to a Rangers defenseman. These silly mistakes more often than not will burn a team. Tonight, we got lucky. You expect a more veteran player to play as a leader and not commit these types of fundamental mistakes, and for the Preds to have a chance at winning games, this has to stop.
I'm about to say something that is meant as tough love, but it has to be said. The level of play from veterans like Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont has to improve. It's time to elevate your game, boys. Arnie, you're the captain, and you lead by example on the ice. Frankly, you're invisible too often and too long. It's time to re-focus and start bringing your "A" game back to the ice. This team needs your scoring, but more importantly, they need your leadership. They need to see you busting it every shift.
J.P., you have too much talent and experience to be making rookie mistakes. You have too much talent to be producing as sporadically as you do. Again, if this team is going to make the playoffs, you have to be stepping your game up to the next level.
Oh, and Marty Erat and David Legwand, time to get some consistent production out of you guys as well. Tonight, between the two of you, there was one shot on goal. This cannot happen consistently and the team have a chance to win. You guys are veterans and leaders, and frankly you have to provide better production and effort than what was shown tonight.
It's getting down to crunch time for this team. Two tough games remain before the Olympic break, then you have 17 games in 30 days in the month of March. It is going to come down to each player on this team reaching down inside of themselves and finding that extra drive, that desire to do what it takes to secure a victory. It's time for the veterans on this team to step up and show their character.
Tonight, we got lucky. It's two points and I will gladly take them. However, Lady Luck is fickle, and I don't want to rely on luck to get a win. I want the veterans to step up and play like winners. I want to see you leave it all on the ice. Grit and determination and heart will win out. From rookie to veteran,that has to be the way you play. That is what is necessary to win.