When the Nashville Predators play the San Jose Sharks, it is often a grinding affair. The Sharks use their size and strength to grind on the Predators and wear them down, usually on their way to a victory. The formula has worked well for the Sharks against the Predators, as they have won 9 of their previous 12 meetings.
Tonight, that formula looked as if would produce another victory for the Sharks. Nursing a 2-1 lead with five minutes to go, it appeared as if the Sharks would once again exert their will against the smaller Predators and skate away with another win.
The physical advantage of the Sharks was no match for the heart and desire of the Predators, however, as the Predators scored two goals in a span of 44 seconds and held off a 6 on 4 Sharks power play in the last minute to win 3-2 and continue their torrid December.
The win ran the Predators record in December to 6-0-1 and 7-1-2 in their last ten games. The Predators have now won four straight contests.
San Jose opened the scoring at 7:25 of the first period as Niclas Wallin was alone in the face off circle and blistered a shot to the far side post past Nashville netminder Anders Lindback. Lindback was not screened on the shot and was beaten by a rocket that was perfectly placed just inside the far side post.
San Jose used their size to muscle the Predators away from the net and refused to give them many quality looks in the first period. The Predators continued to work the puck throughout the period and did generate some chances, but were unable to get one past Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. The effort that the Predators put forth made one feel that eventually they would manage to solve Niemi. It would just be a matter of time.
That time would come at 12:14 of the second period.
The Predators would dump a puck deep to the right of the net. Jordin Tootoo pursued the puck and made a hit on the Sharks defender at the wall, jarring the puck loose. Tootoo would control the puck and flip a centering pass toward the crease. The puck hit the stick of former Predator Scotty Nichol and would bounce past Niemi for the Predators first goal. One could say the goal was a fluke, but that score was a direct result of hustle by Tootoo and putting the puck back into a scoring position. Good things happen when you put the puck on the net.
San Jose would answer at 17:26 of the second as Dany Heatley would knock in a rebound on a Sharks power play to make it 2-1.
With that lead going into the third, San Jose played most of the period like they have played the Predators in games past: a suffocating defense and timely chances generated by the scoring line of Thornton, Heatley, and Marleau. Time was melting away off the clock, and it appeared that the Sharks would once again get the better of the Predators. Their size and strength was starting to take its toll on the Predators.
Size and strength are one thing; heart is entirely another matter. Tonight, the heart, the fight, belonged to the Predators.
Sergei Kostitsyn would continue his solid play and would tie the game at 16:44 of the third. Shea Weber skated the puck into the zone and found Kostitsyn driving the net. Kostitsyn was being harassed by a Sharks defender but fought to get his stick on the puck and was able to slide it between the pads of Niemi for the tying score.
Momentum to the Predators.
The heart was always theirs.
The Predators would take the lead 44 seconds later as Colin Wilson took a nice pass from Steve Sullivan on a 3 on 1 break and made no mistake in burying the shot past Niemi.
The Predators did not make the finish easy, however. Jordin Tootoo was called for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. Initially, a linesman ruled that the puck was tipped, but was overruled by referee Francois St. Laurent. So at 18:08, the Predators were down a man and fighting to kill off the remainder of the period with a man down.
Niemi went to the box and the the Predators were fighting a 6 on 4 advantage for the Sharks.
And fight they did.
The Predators PK was outstanding, clogging shooting lanes, clearing the front of the net, and challenging shots. A few timely clears, and the clock ran out with the Predators on top.
The Predators managed to reverse their fortunes against the Sharks by seizing momentum in the third. They put themselves in that position by fighting all game, refusing to yield to the size and talent of the Sharks.
Tonight, the Predators displayed the heart and the will to win this game. Character won out.
The Predators were without Patric Hornqvist, who was injured in the previous game with the Islanders. A very big hole in the lineup, one that would require the entire team to step up and take up the slack. Another challenge to fight through; another opportunity for others to show heart and character.
That fight, that character was shown in little things that won the game. Taking a hit to make a play; hustling back, as J.P. Dumont did, to stop a breakaway attempt; fighting to clear the front of the net; all things that don't show up in the score sheet but often determine the outcome of a game.
It is this type of effort that it takes to be a talented team like the Sharks. It is this type of effort that it takes to build a winning streak like the one the Predators enjoy.
Keep playing with heart and character like you displayed tonight, and the wins will pile up.
My three stars:
1. Colin Wilson
2. Sergei Kostitsyn
3. Anders Lindback