The Nashville Predators journeyed to the Nationwide Arena once again for a divisional tilt with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Unlike their first foray into enemy territory, the Predators effort in this contest was decidedly better than the first meeting with the Jackets. The Predators took the game to a shootout, defeating the Blue Jackets 4-3 behind Pekka Rinne's outstanding goaltending.
The Predators decided that they were going to crash the net and challenge Jackets netminder Steve Mason, something that they did not do in the first meeting. The Predators shot the puck and crashed the net and generally created havoc in front of Mason, making him scramble to make saves and making his life difficult.
Nashville scored first at 17:02 of the first period when Colin Wilson was the beneficiary of a beautiful saucer pass from Cal O'Reilly from behind the net. Wilson was crashing the crease and lifted a shot over the shoulder of Mason to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.
Anoine Vermette tied the game at 7:11 when the Predators lost defensive zone coverage and allowed Vermette to break in alone on the backside of the coverage. Marty Erat and Shea Weber lost the coverage, and Rinne was rightfully livid with his defense after the score.
Nashville would regain the lead at 16:29 of the second period as Marty Erat found Sergei Kostitsyn braking to the net. He got the pass to SK74 in traffic, and he was able to control the puck and lift it over Mason's shoulder.
Nashville would give up the equalizer at 2:01 of the third period as Kris Russell would get his first goal of the season. That goal would energize the Blue Jackets as their forecheck picked up and created turnovers and put the Predators back on their heels.
The Jackets pressure would pay off as Rick Nash walked in on net and put a shot in on Rinne, who made a great toe save. The puck was caromed off the skate of Colin Wilson, who missed the clear at the side of the net. Antoine Vermette, following the play, tapped the puck into the open net to give the Jackets their first lead of the night.
It was disappointing to once again see the Predators fail to hold a lead in the third period. Having played the previous night, there was concern about how much gas Nashville would have in the tank. More importantly, would this team have the mental toughness to mount a comeback against a tough divisional opponent?
That question was answered at 11:38 of the period as the Predators were crowding the crease and Kevin Klein unleashed a rocket that went low along the ice. Mason never saw the shot until it went into the back of the net. Tie game, question resoundingly answered.
The game remained scoreless for the rest of the third period and the overtime session, but it was not for lack of effort as both Rinne and Mason made some big saves.
Once again, the Predators were going to a shootout, their sixth of the season.
Columbus elected to have Nashville shoot first, and Mason got a piece of Cal O'Reilly's shot. Rinne answered by stopping Jakub Voracek.
Nashville's second shooter, Steve Sullivan absolutely undressed Mason, faking to his backhand and causing Mason to slide completely out of the net. Sully drew the puck back and slid it into the net with a gentle forehand shove.
Rinne stoned Rick Nash and Mason stopped Marty Erat.
With the game on the line, Rinne faced his nemesis tonight, Antoine Vermette. Rinne ate up his shot, and the Predators had the all important second point.
After a four game losing streak, the Predators have now won two in a row.
The tenor of this game was decidedly different than the first contest. Nashville skated better and the forwards were not going to be denied the dirty areas in front of the crease. Two of their three goals came from shots in the hard area, with players paying the price to establish position and challenge Mason.
Kudos to Pekka Rinne. This win was squarely on his shoulders, as he made some outstanding saves. Rinne is a beast in net and is playing with confidence. His game is on, and it gives the Predators an opportunity for victory every night. The three goals that were allowed were goals for which I do not fault Rinne.
The win feels good, but there are still holes in the Predators game that have to be plugged. There are still lapses in the defensive coverage that one would not expect with the D that Nashville puts on the ice. There are still times that the offense disappears.
The win is positive. The mistakes have to be corrected. Take the positives and build on them. You played a very good team tonight and you did what it took to win the game.
Play Predator hockey, and you will see the wins add up.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Antoine Vermette
3. Steve Sullivan