The Nashville Predators continued their six game road trip with a contest against the Colorado Avalanche, a team that plays wide open and with speed. The Avs are chasing the Predators in the standings by two points, and this contest shaped up on paper to be a significant test for the visitors.
The game is played on the ice, and it is there that the Predators dominated.
The Avalanche defense often pinches in the offensive zone- a high risk, high reward style of play. That type of play created an odd man rush for the Predators early in the contest as the line of Marcel Goc, Martin Erat, and Sergei Kostitsyn broke out on a 3 on 2 rush. Goc slid a pass to Erat, who fired a cross ice pass to Kostitsyn. SK74 picked a corner with his wrist shot and pinged the puck off the post to beat Colorado netminder Craig Anderson to give the Predators an early 1-0 lead just 3:15 into the contest.
The Avs responded with good pressure, and Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne made some excellent saves to keep the advantage for the Predators. Rinne was solid in net, good at tracking the puck and moving well. His consistently outstanding play bodes well for the fortunes of the Predators.
The Predators stretched the lead to 2-0 at 16:37 of the first period as Cody Franson took a cue from the Avalanche defensemen and pinched in to the offensive zone. The puck came to him in the faceoff circle and he fired a wrister that beat Anderson through traffic high glove side and top corner.
The Predators have struggled in times past with slow starts. Not tonight. They were opportunistic and skated well, and the scoreboard reflected their effort.
One knew that the Avalanche would respond, and they did in the second period, controlling the puck for lengthy stretches in the offensive zone. The Avs appeared to have scored on a Ryan Stoa put back attempt as his shot went between Rinne and the post. The on-ice officials ruled no goal and play continued until the Predators iced the puck.
At the stoppage, the play was reviewed. For a very long time. Television reviews seemed to show that the puck crossed the goal line, but the war room in Toronto ruled that the puck did not completely cross the goal line and was therefore no goal.
What appeared to be a 2-1 contest was still 2-0 Predators, and the momentum shifted from the Avalanche to the Predators, as they were able to turn back the pressure the Avs brought and start to generate offense of their own.
While neither team scored in the second period, the stage was set for an explosive third period.
There was an explosion. From the Predators, as they tallied three times to ice a big win.
Matt Halischuk got his first goal as a Predator at 2:05 of the third period as his line created some good scoring chances in the offensive zone. Halischuk grabbed a loose puck and swooped behind the net and beat Anderson to the post with a wrap around on a great hustle play by the youngster.
David Legwand and Colin Wilson would again catch the Colorado D pinching and make them pay. Legwand and Wilson broke in on Anderson, with Wilson driving the net and drawing the defense to him. Legwand snapped off a shot across his body from just inside the faceoff circle that beat Anderson on the far side post. This was Legwand's 6th goal of the season, and it is great to see him contributing offensively.
The Predators offensive outburst in the period was capped off by an absolutely sick goal by Colin Wilson. Wilson took the puck with speed into the offensive zone, dangled around a defender, and lifted a quick backhand over the shoulder of Anderson. Highlight reel goal by Wilson, whose game is getting stronger as the season unfolds.
Matt Duchene would break the shutout as he was alone in front of Rinne and would firs a forehand that Rinne stopped with his pad. Duchene had time to gather in the rebound and lift the follow up shot over Rinne's pads for the lone Colorado goal.
From start to finish, this was a solid game by the Predators. There were times during the game where the Avs controlled play in the Predators offensive zone. Rinne cleaned up mistakes with some big saves, and the Predators did a great job of counter punching the Avs offensive effort and made them pay for their high risk style of play.
The Predators are now 26-16-6 and in sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference with 58 points. Tonight's contest was a "four point" game for the Predators. Lose, and Colorado ties you with 56 points. With the win, the Predators are 4 points ahead of the Avs.
There are more tough games ahead. The importance of this road swing cannot be overstated given the jumble of teams that are vying for playoff positioning.
The effort that has been shown in the last two games has got to continue.
If it does, you will bury some more teams.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Cody Franson
3. Matt Halishcuk