Thursday, March 25, 2010

Predators Beat Their Mirror Image, Down Coyotes 4-3

For the Nashville Predators, playing the Phoenix Coyotes is like looking in the mirror. The Coyotes and Predators are both hard working teams that can roll four lines, play sound defense, and have solid goaltending. Tonight, the mirror images decided that regulation play and overtime was not enough, and once again went to a shootout to determine the winner. Fortunately for the Predators, they prevailed 2-1 in the shootout to pick up a 4-3 win and two vital points.

After coming off a listless loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, it was important for the Predators to get off to a good start. Lee Stempniak thwarted that good start as he netted a goal at 5:54 of the first with a forehand that fooled Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne. The shot seemed to flutter and drop and found its way under the arm of Rinne, and once again, Nashville found itself starting in a hole.

That deficit would be erased by Patric Hornqvist at 13:09 of the first. Marcel Goc lead a rush into the Phoenix zone and got the puck to Hornqvist, who was driving the net. He was able to sneak a backhander low to the stick side of Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov for his 29th goal of the season. Hornqvist continues to shine in this, his first full season of play.

Tied at one at the beginning of the second period, the Predators came out strong and put pressure on the Coyotes. J.P. Dumont, working the puck low in the zone, drew the attention of four Coyote defenders. He was able to get the puck to Marcel Goc, who found Steve Sullivan, alone just inside the faceoff circle and he roofed a puck over the shoulder of Bryzgalov for his 15th goal of the year and a 2-1 Predators lead.

The Predators continued to put pressure on the Coyotes, controlling the puck and keeping Phoenix in their end for much of the period. The pressure paid off as Dan Hamhuis unleashed a shot from the point that beat Bryzgalov over his shoulder at 9:28 of the second. The Predators kept the Coyotes boxed in their zone for much of the period and exited the second with the 3-1 lead.

The Coyotes are a talented team, and it was inevitable that they would keep pushing and make it a game. They cut the lead to 3-2 at 13:28 of the third as Wojtek Wolski scored through traffic.At 3-2 and six minutes remaining in the game, Predator fans knew that this game was not over.

Sure enough, the Coyotes tied the game at 16:03 of the third as Keith Yandle jumped into the rush and put a puck past a screened Rinne. All of a sudden, a game, and two precious points, that seemed in hand now hung in the balance.

Scoreless for the remainder of the third period, the game went to overtime. The Predators generated more offense and created some chances, outshooting the Coyotes 4-3, but couldn't solve Bryzgalov. And once again, these two mirror images were going to a shootout. The last time they faced each other, it was a ten round affair, eventually won by the Coyotes.

Lee Stempniak was the first shooter for the Coyotes, and he slipped the puck through Rinne's five hole for a 1-0 lead.

Young Cal O'Reilly popped the water bottle on the net on his shootout attempt, as he beat Bryzgalov top shelf. Cool, calm, and collected, O'Reilly is money in the shootout.

Rinne stopped Adrian Aucoin, who remarkably had never missed a shootout attempt in all five chances this season, and Marty Erat missed over the crossbar. Tied at one, Rinne now faced Radim Vrbata.  Vrbata drove wide and Rinne forced him to shoot high. The shot pinged off the crossbar to keep the score tied at one.

David Legwand was the third shooter for the Predators, and he beat Bryzgalov five hole for the game winner.Two points- two important points- for the Predators as they skated off the ice with the win.

The response of the Predators after the lackluster effort in the previous game was encouraging. This is a team that the Predators could possibly meet in a first round matchup in the playoffs, and tonight they acquitted themselves well. Good intensity and resiliency allowed them to skate away with the win.

There are concerns. Two power plays and no shots for the Predators. Failure to lock down a lead in the the third period. These have to be addressed and corrected.

The positives are that the Predators persisted. Giving up the lead would have caused a lesser team to fold. You did not. You played some solid hockey against a very good team. You showed that you can compete with one of the best in the Western Conference.

These are confidence builders. These are building blocks to a successful run to the post season.

Tonight, you looked into the mirror and saw a very good team. Tonight, you saw that you can compete and win against one of the best.

Remember what this looks like. You will be seeing teams like this again.

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