Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Predators Win Ugly, Gound Flyers 4-3

The Nashville Predators were back home after a successful four game road swing to take on the Philadelphia Flyers in a game that was destined to be a physical contest. Physical it was, as the Flyers had free reign to trip, high stick and slash with impunity. The Predators withstood a late third period rally and the Flyers' nasty game to prevail in a shootout and skate away with a 4-3 win.

The Predators fell behind early as a clearing attempt misfired and left the puck in the low slot. Jeff Carter scooped up the puck and roofed it over the shoulder of goaltender Pekka Rinne at 1:21 of the first period. Rinne had no chance to stop the golden scoring chance, and once again, the Predators found themselves in an early game deficit.

The Predators would answer just over three minutes later. Goaltender Michael Leighton stopped the puck in his crease off a shot by Steve Sullivan. Sully would continue around the net and poked at the puck that was lying in the crease. Leighton couldn't control the puck and Sullivan was able to knock it in for the tying goal.

Nashville kept the pressure up on the Philly netminder as the Predators aggressive forecheck forced a turnover. Marty Erat took a pass from Patric Hornqvist and fired a shot over the shoulder glove side of Leighton for a 2-1 Predator lead.

Several minutes later, Leighton was injured blocking a shot well out of his crease, and was unable to continue. The Flyers then turned to backup goaltender Bobby Brian Boucher.

Boucher was welcomed to the game when Jerred Smithson was crowding the crease when Joel Ward took a shot, which Boucher stopped but was unable to control the rebound. Smithson was able to get control of the puck and slip a backhander into the open side of the net.

Seven shots, three goals, and the Predators had the momentum and the Flyers back on their heels. It is, however, a three period game, and Predator fans knew that this game was still going to be a scrap.

The second period was scoreless, but not for lack of effort from the Flyers. Outshot in the first period 17-9, the Predators continued to allow the Flyers to pepper the net, The Predators were outshot in the second period 12-6, and Pekka Rinne was stellar in net, thwarting all the scoring opportunities the Philadelphia had.

Predator fans knew that the Flyers would be bringing the pressure in the third period, and they did. They were abetted in their effort by several missed call by the officials, the most egregious of which was a tripping call when Jason Arnott was blatantly tripped at the Flyer blueline. This set up a rush into the Nashville zone, and Simon Gagne was able to cash in for a score as he banged in a puck in a goalmouth scramble to cut the margin to 3-2 with 8:46 remaining in the game.

Dan Hamhuis was called for delay of game when he knocked the net off its moorings, and Chris Pronger was able to score on the ensuing power play to tie the game. For the game, Philadelphia had one penalty called against them, a fighting major against Ian Laperrier. Unbelievably, the trips, slashes, and high sticks were not called. And the game was tied.

The Predators ramped up the offense in the third and registered ten shots on goal,  but could not solve Boucher. In the overtime, the Flyers outshot the Predators 6-5, but neither team was able to score.

In the shootout, Rinne stopped Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and Mike Richards. Boucher stopped Marcel Goc, but Marty Erat tallied the game winner as his shot hit Boucher and climbed over his shoulder into the net. Two points, two precious points for the Predators.

Although the Predators jumped out to the early lead, this was not the best game they have played. The offense went dormant in the latter stages of the first period and the entire second period. Too often, the Preds relied on Pekka Rinne to clean up defensive mistakes or turn back the pressure from the Flyers. This was a win, however, and nothing can take away from that fact. Sometimes, you have to win ugly. Ugly it was, but fortunately, wins are not graded on style points.

There are positive aspects of this game that the Predators can fall back upon. There are four legitimate lines that Coach Trotz can roll onto the ice, four lines that can pressure the puck, can score, and can give the team quality minutes. This will be critical in the drive to the playoffs.

Rinne looks to have seized the reins as the starter. The more he plays, the stronger he gets. Yes, he gave up three goals tonight, but he had virtually no chance on two of the goals. I think it is a wise decision to ride this horse all the way to the playoffs.

Obviously not the best game for the Predators from start to finish, but a win nevertheless. This is a win that showed the resiliency of this team, a characteristic that Coach Trotz refers to often. This team is not the most talented, and sometimes breaks don't go their way. But they keep coming, keep working, and never quit. They take whatever happens and they deal with it and they don't back down. This character trait continues to define this team.

83 points and firmly in 7th place. Teams are chasing you and want what you have. You have to continue to take care of business and not let them have it. You have to be resilient. You have to continue to play with heart and grit.

And sometimes you have to win ugly.

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