Two weeks ago, the Nashville Predators played the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center in a contest that was an absolute grind. Tonight, the Predators met the Hurricanes in the Bridgestone Arena, and this contest was a decidedly different affair. The Predators blew away the Hurricanes 5-2 in a wide opening tilt.
This was the first contest for the Predators without starting netminder Pekka Rinne, who is out 2-4 weeks after having his left knee scoped on Friday. Anders Lindback got the start in net for the Predators.
Patric Hornqvist opened the scoring for the Predators at 2:33 of the first period as he gathered in a rebound of a Cody Franson shot and fired it past Carolina goaltender Cam Ward.
Joe Corvo answered for the Hurricanes just 18 seconds later as he drove into the offensive zone and fired a shot from the right face off circle that hit Lindback's shoulder and bounced into the net. It was a goal that was soft and one that had the Predator nation saying "uh-oh".
The Predators would regain the lead at 10:08 of the first period as Shea Weber went low and took a beautiful pass from Marty Erat. Weber buried the shot for his fourth goal and second in consecutive games.
Nashville continued to buzz the net and fire shots at Ward, who gave up many juicy rebounds. The offense effort tonight was very solid and challenged Ward and the Carolina defense all night.
That effort would pay off in a Marcel Goc score that came at 15:01 of the first period. Marty Erat shot a puck at Ward, who gave up a rebound that slid into the slot. Goc and Kevin Klein converged on the puck and Goc whistled a wrister past Ward for his first goal in seven games to extend the lead to 3-1 for the Predators.
Nashville exerted good offensive pressure throughout the first period and outshot the Canes 17-10. The Predators were strong on the puck and fired numerous shots at Ward, who was prone to give up rebounds all night. The Predators were also strong in the neutral zone and rarely allowed Carolina to enter the offensive zone with speed.
Carolina came out with good jump to open the second period and at times had the Predators back on their heels. When they did, Lindback came up with some key saves to keep the Canes off the boards.
Carolina finally solved Lindback at 9:43 of the second as Jiri Tlusty gathered in a rebound in the low slot and beat Lindback high to the stick side. All of a sudden, we had a game again.
Nashville would stretch the lead to 2 again as the line of Sergei Kostitsyn, Marty Erat, and Cal O'Reilly, who was still on the ice on a long shift, clicked for a goal at 8:44 of the third. Kostitsyn made a beautiful drop pass to Erat, who whipped a pass to O'Reilly alone in the low slot. O'Reilly buried the shot over the stick side shoulder of Ward to make the score 4-2 in favor of the Predators.
Steve Sullivan would cap the scoring with an empty net goal at 17:44 of the third, and the Predators would dominate the Hurricanes for their third straight win and their second over the Canes this season.
The Predators played a complete game to notch this victory. Lindback was solid in the start, stopping 28 of 30 shots. The Predators dominated the neutral zone, rarely allowing Carolina to enter the zone with speed. The defense did a great job of limiting secondary scoring chances. And the offense shot the puck and crashed the crease, generating scoring chances, and more importantly, finishing on those chances.
The line of Goc, Kostitsyn, and Erat have emerged as a true scoring line for the Predators. They are creative and do a great job of generating scoring opportunities. Sergei Kostitsyn was around the net all night, and played The emergence of this line gives the Predators another quality scoring line that takes the pressure off the top scoring line of O'Reilly, Sullivan, and Wilson. For the Preds to have continued success, they have to have another legitimate scoring line, and this second line has stepped into role of a scoring line in a big way.
The Predators will be without Rinne for a while. Lindback is more than capable of shouldering the load. Tonight, he settled down after an early soft goal and demonstrated that he is capable of carrying that load. This bodes well for the fortunes of the Predators.
For the Predators to have continued success, they have to do what they did tonight: strong on the PK (Carolina was 0-4 with the man advantage); solid goal tending; and perhaps most importantly, an opportunistic offense. The Predators shot the puck and took advantage of rebounds. They outshot Carolina 39-30 for the game. This is their formula for success, and if they play this way every game, they will come out on top in most contests.
This game should give the Predators some confidence as they continue on in their schedule. They now know that they can be successful playing Predator hockey. They know that they will be in the hunt for a playoff spot with this kind of effort.
Play like this, and you will hammer some more teams.
My three stars:
1. Marty Erat
2. Anders Lindback
3. Marcel Goc