The Nashville Predators began a three game West coast road swing with a hard fought 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. The game was not as close as the score would indicate, as the Predators had their hands full with a swarming Ducks squad that peppered Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne with 41 shots.
The Ducks were flying all game and kept the Predators fighting for their proverbial lives through out the game. The Ducks speed seems to always present a challenge for the Predators, and once again, their forecheck pushed the Predators back in their zone all night.
The game opened with both teams pressing each other and challenging in the offensive zone. The Predators would break through at 5:10 of the first period as Jerred Smithson would walk the puck out of the corner and jam a shot in on Ducks netminder Jonas Hiller. Hiller made the initial pad save but did not control the puck. Smithson took another whack at the puck and was able to eke the puck over the goal line. Smithson immediately celebrated the goal, but the officials were out of position and did not make the initial call. After a video review, Smithson was awarded his fourth goal of the season and the Predators had a 1-0 lead.
After that positive note, the Predators spent the rest of the first period back on their heels, and except for some solid goaltending from Pekka Rinne, the Predators would have been blown out of the Honda Center. For the period, the Predators were outshot 15-5.
The Predators started to change the momentum in the second period. They started skating better and controlling the puck in the offensive zone. Their efforts paid off early in the period as Sergei Kostitsyn slipped a beautiful pass through traffic to Patric Hornqvist, who had worked himself open at the side of the net. Hornqvist fought off a defender to get position, and the pass ricocheted off his skate past an out of position Hiller at 3:56 of the second.
The Predators till gave up some quality chances to the Ducks, but in this period, created some good chances of their own. In the second, the Ducks outshot the Predators 13-11.
Saku Koivu would cut the lead to 2-1 at 11:46 of the third period as the Predators got hemmed in their own zone and could not clear the puck. The Predators lost a board battle and Koivu got the puck from Dan Sexton. He beat Rinne with a shot over his shoulder with a shot from just inside the face off circle.
You knew the Ducks were going to come out with pressure and challenge the Predators. The Koivu goal energized the Ducks and they were flying. If the Predators were going to win this game, they would have to hold off the Ducks.
The Predators were absolutely on their heels in the latter stages of the third period. The Preds lost most of the board battles and races to loose pucks. The Predators managed to hold off the Ducks, but did not aid their cause as Pekka Rinne was called for tripping at 16:13 of the third. Fortunately for the Predators, their PK continued their excellent play and held the Ducks off the board.
The Predators would ice the game as Sergei Kostitsyn potted an empty net goal at 19:08. Shea Weber would add an empty net goal as his clearing attempt from behind the goal line would bank off the side board and slide down the ice into the open goal at 19:58.
For the game, the Ducks outshot the Predators 41-26.
This game shows that if the Predators decide to play it safe, they will usually wind up on the wrong side of the score. Without a stellar effort from Pekka Rinne, that would have again been the case.
This game also showed that if the Predators play with heart and refuse to wilt, they can win the tough contests. This victory was only the Predators 6th win in 24 attempts at the Honda Center.
The remainder of this West coast swing will require heart and grit. The rest of this season will require the same. Play with heart and character, and you will skate away with more improbable wins.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Sergei Kostitsyn
3. Ryan Suter