The Nashville Predators played their third road game of a four game road trip as they faced the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center, prevailing over the Canes by a 2-1 margin in a shootout victory. This was the Predators third shootout win in the past five games.
The game was a defensive contest from the outset. Both teams were checking hard and often, disrupting the other's offensive flow. There were some thunderous checks delivered by Shea Weber for the Predators and Tim Gleason for the Hurricanes. The aggressive checking did not allow either team to get in an rhythm in the offensive zone.
The Predators did a good job of establishing puck control in the offensive zone for much of the night, but were forced outside by the Carolina defense. When they got good scoring chances, Carolina netminder Cam Ward was able to clean up any chances.
Head Coach Barry Trotz told me before the game that he was concerned that Carolina would use their size to cycle and control the puck in our end during this contest. The Predators did an excellent job of working hard on the boards and neutralizing Carolina's cycle game for much of the night.
Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne got challenged early on a couple of quality chances when the Predators turned the puck over in the defensive zone, and he made some excellent stops to keep the Canes off the board.
That would change on a fluky goal at 9:22 of the first period by Joni Pitkanen. He sent a centering pass toward Eric Cole, who was moving toward the net. The puck hit Shane O'Brien's stick and changed direction. The puck bounced on the ice, took a funny hop, and skittered past Rinne for a 1-0 Canes lead. The score came on the second shot of the game for Carolina.
Indicative of the defensive nature of this contest was the shot totals after the first period: Nashville 5; Carolina 3.
Nashville would get the tying tally at 3:53 of the second period. Jordin Tootoo forced a turnover, and with the Carolina defenders surrounding him on the boards, found Jerred Smithson alone in the slot. He slid a pass to Smithson, who patiently beat Cam Ward with a high wrist shot.
This would be the only scoring for the remainder of regulation and overtime. Both teams generated a few quality chances, but both netminders were equal to the task. Ward was especially strong in overtime, as Nashville controlled the puck for much of the extra session. He turned away all four Nashville shots, while Rinne was only tested once.
Carolina chose to shoot first in the shootout. Jeff Skinner scored with a nice wrist shot over Rinne's stick side.
Cal O'Reilly continued his mastery in the shootout with a beautiful forehand backhand move to beat Ward high glove side.
Rinne stopped Jussi Jokinen and Ward stopped Marcel Goc in the second round of the shootout.
Rinne stoned Patrick O'Sullivan in the third round.
Marty Erat was the third shooter for the Predators, and he buried his attempt to give the Predators the victory, lifting a shot over Ward's blocker.
The Predators limped in to this contest without Ryan Suter, who returned to Nashville to have his knee evaluated and to be with his wife, who is expected to deliver their first child any day. They were also missing David Legwand, who is out with a lower body injury.
With these key players out of the lineup, it was going to be imperative for others to step up. Tonight, that was Jerred Smithson and Jordin Tootoo. Their line, along with Joel Ward, were very strong tonight in both zones.
This was by no means a pretty game to watch. It was a grind it out, gritty hockey game. The team that was going to lose this game was the team that would flinch first.
The Predators didn't flinch.
In a long season, there will be these types of games. tough games. Games that are a grind. Games that test character.
Tonight, the character of the Predators was on display.
My three stars of the game:
1. Jerred Smithson
2. Jordin Tootoo
3. Pekka Rinne