The Nashville Predators made a rare trip to the Rock to take on the New Jersey Devils in a contest that presented itself as a trap game. A game against an Eastern Conference foe that the Predators rarely see; a game against a team that has been struggling; a game that is sandwiched in between important Western Conference contests. This is the type of game that has bedeviled the Predators in the past.
The Predators notched two power play goals to capture a 3-1 victory over the Devils. Marty Erat tallied two goals and Steve Sullivan opened the scoring for the Predators, who have now won five straight games.
The first period was a generally listless first period for both teams. New Jersey generated several good chances against Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback. Rod Pelley rang a shot off the post, and the Devils cycled the puck and created some scoring chances. Fortunately for the Predators, Lindback was equal to the task.
Lindback has gone 6-0-1 in relief of injured starter Pekka Rinne.
With time running down in the first period, Shea Weber sent a shot screaming toward the net that was tipped by Steve Sullivan and trickled over the goal line past Martin Brodeur. Brodeur got a piece of the tip, but could not squeeze the puck under his arm, and the Predators were on the board at 19:43 of the period.
Nashville would extend the lead to 2-0 at 4:56 of the second while on the power play. Ryan Suter got the puck to Marty Erat who had camped just inside the right face off circle. He uncorked a quick one timer that cleanly beat Brodeur high to the glove side.
The Devils kept pressing in the second period, and at times dictated play in the Nashville zone. Patrik Elias found the pipe from the slot, and when the Devils weren't hitting the iron, Lindback was making some big saves to keep the off the board.
The Predators made it 3-0 at 4:55 of the third period with another power play goal as Marty Erat re-directed a Ryan Suter shot past Brodeur. On this play Sergei Kostitsyn picked up an assist to record a point in his eighth straight game, tying a club record.
Rookie Mattias Tedenby scored on the power play for the Devils at 7:06 of the third. Tedenby walked in from the face off circle and beat Lindback high glove with a wicked wrist shot.
From that point on, the Predators played shut down hockey. That isn't to say that the Devils didn't generate chances. They did. There was a stretch of 1:30 in the last four minutes where the Devils kept the Predators trapped in their own zone and unable to clear the puck. The Predators were saved by an interference penalty on Jamie Langenbrunner as he slapped Lindback's goal stick away from him after he dropped it on the ice.
After the penalty, they Devils were unable to generate another scoring chance and the Predators skated away with another win.
A big win from the standpoint that the team showed mental toughness, something that had been lacking in their game earlier this season. A big win because it was a solid road game for the Predators that featured opportunistic scoring and solid defense.
A big win because it was two points that the Predators did not give away.
With this win, the Predators ran their record to 17-8-6, good for 40 points.
After some early season struggles, this team has played consistent hockey. They have played Predator hockey- not always flashy or pretty, but very effective.
It is winning hockey.
The kind of hockey that will get this team back to the playoffs.
My three stars:
1. Marty Erat
2. Ryan Suter
3. Sergei Kostitsyn