In the war that is a hockey game, little battles can determine the outcome. Winning a battle on the boards for a puck, fighting for control in the neutral zone, scrapping in front of the net. Little battles, that if won, can determine the difference between winning and losing. Tonight, the Nashville Predators won enough of those little battles to skate away with a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in the Bridgestone Arena.
Since the start of the 2005-06 season, the Predators are 26-6-3 against the Blues. That record, however, belies the fact that the games against the Blues have been a war. Tonight, it was a war with the Blues.
Once again, the Predators were plagued by a slow start as the Blues opened the first frame by outshooting the Predators 7-1. More troubling for the Predators was the scoring drought they were experiencing, and that drought would continue throughout the first period.
The Predators had several good scoring opportunities, but couldn't finish, as Blues netminder Chris Mason shut the door on several great chances.
Nashville outshot St. Louis 15-11 in the first period but found themselves in a 1-0 hole as Alexander Steen notched his 23rd goal on the power play. This goal was precipitated by David Backes falling on top of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne as Steen took the shot. With Rinne Pinned under Backes, Steen potted the goal. Inexplicably, there was no goaltender interference call as the officials, Kevin Pollak and Rob Martell, deemed that the goal had been scored before the interference had occurred.
The battles continued as each team tried to assert themselves, and the question was who would yield. How would either team respond to the challenge?
Colin Wilson showed his teammates that he was ready to battle as he engaged David Polak in his first NHL fight. Wilson refused to back down from the challenge of Polak and acquitted himself well in his first fight at 15:02 of the first. It looked as if Polak was crying on the linesman's shoulder after the fight. A challenge, an answer, another of the battles within the game that can determine the outcome. Wilson demonstrated he was ready to step up and battle.
The Blues extended the lead to two as Andy McDonald took advantage of a failed clearing attempt by the Nashville defense.David Perron got the puck to McDonald at the side of the net and he re-directed the puck past Rinne for the Blues second tally at 3:11 of the second.
The Predators now faced a deficit of two goals in a game they needed to win. The war was going the way of the Blues and it was up to the Predators to start winning battles to respond.
The first response would come from Dustin Boyd, who is turning into a Blues killer, as he redirected a shot from Cody Franson past Mason. The goal was reviewed to see if it was played with a high stick, but was not, and the Predators had life. 191 minutes without scoring was over because Boyd was in the hard area in front of the net. Winning the war is decided by winning the little battles.
As the period was winding down, Dan Hamhuis got the puck out to Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist battled for control of the puck against Erik Johnson with less than :10 seconds. Hornqvist never quit on the puck as he was driving to the net, and although he couldn't control it, Colin Wilson trailing the play picked it up at the top of the crease and roofed a backhand over Mason to tie the game with 3.5 seconds remaining in the period.
A little battle that would have been easy to lose. A little battle that Hornqvist refused to lose, and the Predators cashed in due to his effort and the hustle of Wilson. Tied at two at the second intermission, the game was in the balance, two points awaiting the team that would battle harder.
In the third period, the Predators did a great job of winning battles in the neutral zone and preventing the Blues from entering the offensive zone with speed. The Predators won battles to keep the puck deep in the Blues zone, looking for the opportunity to score.
On an innocent looking flip out of the defensive zone by Hornqvist, Steve Sullivan refused to quit on the play and raced down the ice to corral the puck. He drove wide on Mason and beat him glove side to the post for the game winning goal. Sullivan refused to quit, refused to concede the battle for the puck, fought off a defender, and scored at 6:05 of the period.
Little battles that make the difference in a war.
The Predators won the majority of the battles on the walls and in the neutral zone for the remainder of the game and were able to hold off the Blues for their 45th win of the season. Amazingly, 26 of their 45 wins have been one goal victories.
In the course of a game, there are swings in momentum, there are pushes by the other team, there are battles that can be won or lost. At times, losing a battle for a puck or losing the control of the neutral zone on a rush may not seem like it is important. It is winning those battles consistently that determine the outcome of a game.
Tonight, the Predators responded and won the majority of those battles. Tonight, they were challenged, and they responded.
There are three games remaining in the regular season. Three games to battle for playoff seeding.
Time to prepare for those battles, boys. Time to respond to the challenges you will face. The playoffs await.
And it will be war.