The final push to the playoffs started tonight in the newly christened Bridgestone Arena as the Nashville Predators eked out a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. On paper, the Predators should have dominated this game. However, this game is played on ice, and the Predators were fortunate to escape with a win.
Once again, the Predators had to dig themselves out of a hole, as the Oilers opened the scoring with Mike Comrie (Mr. Hillary Duff) finished off a 3 on 1 break by swatting in a rebound past Pekka Rinne. Rinne was able to make the initial stop on a shot by Shawn Horcoff, but was unable to control the rebound. Comrie, alone at the side of the net, knocked the puck home past a sprawling Rinne, who had no chance on the goal.
The Preds tied the score as Colin Wilson gathered in a puck in the slot and fired a puck past Jeff Deslauriers. Jordin Tootoo was in front screening, and Deslauriers appeared not to even see the puck. The tally was Wilson's third goal of the season, and the young forward seems to be settling in to a full time NHL role. Newly acquired Dennis Grebeshkov, fresh from the Oilers, was credited with the assist on Wilson's goal.
Grebeshkov made his presence felt just over two minute later when he corralled a puck at the blue line and waited until traffic got in front of Deslauriers. His shot from the blueline went past the screened goaltender to give the Predators a 2-1 advantage that they would carry in to the first intermission. Good acquisition, Mr. Poile.
Gilbert Brule tied the game at two 11:53 into the second period as he redirected a shot by Theo Peckham past Rinne. Although the Predators had controlled much of the play, the pesky Oilers continued to hang around.
Shea Weber rocketed a blast past Deslauriers with Patric Hornqvist screening in front at 15:12 of the second period to give the Predators a 3-2 lead. It was obvious that Deslauriers was having difficulty with the Predators parked at the top of the crease. Hornqvist, Tootoo, and Joel Ward did a great job tonight creating traffic in front of the net.
Unfortunately for the Predators, they could not maintain a lead as Marc Pouliot tied the game at 2:54 of the third on a shot that Rinne should have been able to stop. Predator fans had an uneasy feeling about this game as a team that the Predators should dominate kept putting pressure on the home team. A game that the Predators needed to bolster their playoff hopes hung in the balance.
Jason Arnott gave the Predators the lead for good when he drove hard to the net and shoveled the puck at the goal. Deslauriers made the initial stop, but in attempting to control the rebound, kicked it into the goal with his skate. A flukey goal, but a goal that the Predators would welcome. A goal that would provide the final margin of victory.
This win was not pretty by any stretch, but it was a win. A game that hung in the balance until the third period. A game that would have been easy to wind up on the wrong end of the score. A game that the Predators battled until the end to come away with the win.
As the team faces a busy March, it is going to be important for this team to continue to battle, to compete for each point that is on the ice. Tonight they competed. Yes, there are things that this team has to do better. The big players have to step up. Arnott needs to heat up. Sullivan and Dumont have to start producing consistently.
Shots must be taken when there is an opportunity. In his post game remarks, Head Coach Barry Trotz mentioned that players were continuing to pass up shots in an attempt to make an extra pass. Shoot the puck, boys. Good things happen when you do.
This team, however, continues to find ways to win. The month of March is going to be a grind, with 17 games in 30 days. Time to dig deep, boys. Everyone has to contribute. Time to go all in.
Tonight, you slid past a team that is struggling. The competition is going to get tougher, the points harder to amass. No more sliding.
It's time to go all in.