Thursday, February 17, 2011

Predators Vanquish Vancouver 3-1

The Nashville Predators overcame injuries, piss poor officiating, and the potent Vancouver offense to defeat the number one team in the Western Conference by a score of 3-1. With the win, the Predators have evened their season series against the Canucks at 1 and now stand at 70 points in the Western Conference with a 31-19-8 record.

The contest was a hard fought affair, with both teams trying to exert their will in the first period. Both Pekka Rinne for Nashville and Roberto Luongo for Vancouver were called upon to make some key stops early to keep the game scoreless. The first period saw both teams generate some chances offensively and make some solid defensive stands.

Nashville was called upon to kill out the remaining 3:28 of the first period with a man down. Patric Hornqvist was called for a (legitimate) slashing call at 16:32. Just as the Predators killed off that penalty, Ryan Suter was called for a weak and phantom interference call. Suter was close to a Canuck forward, who tripped on his own while driving to the net. However, a penalty was called by Rob Martell, who was out of position on the play. This was a weak call, the first of many on the night against the Predators.

The Predators killed off this penalty, but would have to kill off a goaltender interference penalty against Steve Sullivan, who whiffed past Luongo but nevertheless was called at 8:32 of the second. Once again, the Predators PK unit was stellar, killing off another phantom penalty and energizing the crowd in the process. The fans responded with a  television timeout standing ovation, unique to any crowd in the National Hockey League.The effect of the crowd involvement was evident, as the Predators were energized and the Canucks were definitely noticing the response of the fans.

That energy was converted into a Predator goal at 14:13 of the second period as Marty Erat got the puck in the slot and fired a shot on Luongo. Bobby Lou made the initial save but gave up the rebound at the top of the blue paint. Erat continued to fight to the net and got his stick on the puck and lifted it over the shoulder of Luongo for the first goal of the game and Erat's 10th of the season.

The Canucks would answer the Predators tally at 18:15 of the second on the power play as the Predators were called for too many on the ice. This was only the second power play goal given up by the Predators in the last 27 man advantage situations.

With the Canucks tying the game, it was going to be important for the Predators to answer and stave off the momentum of the Canucks.

Answer they did.

Nick Spaling would tally just 11 seconds after the Canucks score as he took a centering pass from Patric Hornqvist and lifted a backhander over the shoulder of Luongo. Momentum, which had been with the Canucks, had now swung back to the Predators on the sweet play by Spaling. In traffic, Spals had the presence of mind to control the puck and make a nice shot for the go ahead score.

Momentum would stay with the Predators as they kept the pressure on the Canucks. The Predators controlled the puck and Alexander Sulzer launched a shot from the blue line that Mike Fisher tipped past Luongo for his first goal as a Predator and his 15th of the season to give the Predators a 3-1 lead.

After the goal, Luongo was slumped on his knees and looking skyward in frustration. Frankly, there was never a sweeter sight in this game.

Going into the third period, one knew that the Canucks would come out and try to get their potent offense going. How would the Predators respond?

That response by the Predators was by playing one of the better periods of hockey that they have played all season. The Predators kept pressure on Luongo and the Canucks defenders, and more importantly, the Predators owned the neutral zone. They refused to let the Canucks gain the zone with speed and did a great job of limiting space and chances in the offensive zone. Rinne got clean looks at the puck and was solid in the net, thwarting any chances the Canucks could generate.

Although the Predators did not find the net in the third, their offensive chances were very good, and Luongo made some great saves to keep the Predators off the board. That offensive effort was strong and it was heartening to see that the Predators did not sit back on their heels as they have been prone to do. More importantly, the offensive pressure kept the Canucks from establishing their offensive flow. This was key to the win tonight.

The victory was not without a price. Mike Fisher took a puck to the face and played only 3:18 of the first period as he had to go to the locker room and get stitched. He returned and played a very solid game. Marcel Goc was lost in the second period as he went awkwardly into the boards and came up holding his arm. After the game, he was seen in the locker room with his arm in a sling. Hopefully, he has not re-injured the shoulder he separated earlier this season. Steve Sullivan took a puck to the face as a pass was deflected off a stick during action in the second period. Sullivan was taken to Vanderbilt Hospital for further evaluation after the game. It was reported that the puck did not strike him in the eye, but the injury did not look good.

Just a word about the officiating. It sucked. Rob Martell and Paul Devorsky were awful. Call me a homer- that's fine. However, it was apparent that Vancouver could crash into our netminder, could hold, and could trip and there was going to be no calls against them. There were several weak calls against the Predators, including Suter's interference call and Sullivan's goal tender interference call.

It speaks volumes that the Predators could overcome poor officiating and the high flying Canucks. Unlike the San Jose game, the Predators brought the effort and the intensity for a full 60 minutes tonight. Their play showed no signs of breaking, even in the face of adversity.

This is part of the maturing process. This is learning how to win the tough games. This type of contest steels a team for the playoffs.

Truth be known, with the Western Conference race as tight as it is, this is playoff time right now.

There will be more tough contests, games that will test the mettle of this team.

Play with the effort and the intensity that you brought to the ice tonight, and you will vanquish more opponents.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Marty Erat

3. Nick Spaling

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