Sunday, March 20, 2011

Buffalo Victimized by another Miracle from Nashville, Fall to the Predators in OT 4-3

The Nashville Predators staged an improbable comeback to beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in overtime at HSBC Arena. Improbable may not be strong enough to describe the outcome of this game.

Blake Geoffrion continued his strong play of late, tallying his second goal in as many games as he banked a shot off Paul Gaustad's skates and past Ryan Miller to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 6:44 of the first period.

Anders Lindback got the start for the Predators in net, and made some good saves in the first period to keep the Sabres off the board. Buffalo had some good scoring chances and Lindback turned aside all 11 shots he faced in the period.

In the second period, the Predators opened with good jump and had several glorious scoring chances. Marty Erat had a breakaway that Miller stopped with his blocker. There were several scoring chances with the Predators shooting the puck and crashing the net, but they could not get a puck past Miller.

Unlike the Predators, the Sabres capitalized on their opportunities and mistakes by the Nashville Predators to build a 3-1 lead.

Nathan Gerbe tied the game for the Sabres as he spun away from Kevin Klein  at the front of the net and whipped a shot under the pad of Lindback at 7:04 of the second. Gerbe had a solid game for the Sabres, creating good offensive pressure throughout the night.

That goal energized the Sabres, and just 40 seconds later, Tim Connolly blistered a wrist shot over the shoulder of Lindback for his 11th goal of the year and a 2-1 lead for the Sabres.

Those two quick goals jacked up the Sabres and put the Predators on their heels. Buffalo controlled much of the play for the remainder of the second period, while the Predators mustered scant little offensive effort.

Buffalo would extend the lead to 3-1 at 19:00 of the second period while on the power play. Cody Franson took a... what word am I looking for...stupid slashing penalty at 17:22. Tyler Ennis made the Predators pay as his shot from the slot slipped between Lindback's arm and his body.

Down 3-1 and with Miller looking unbeatable and the Sabres clogging the neutral zone, things did not look good for the Predators. It was going to be essential that the Predators get a goal fairly early in the period to loosen up the Sabres defense and to give them a chance to get back into the game.

That did not happen for the Predators. The Sabres defense trapped them in the neutral zone and did a great job of limiting chances once the Predators got into the offensive zone. With the clock winding down, it looked as if an important contest and 2 critical points were going to slip away.

A funny thing happened on the way to what appeared to be a certain Buffalo win, though.

Jonathan Blum fought for the puck in the corner and outworked two Sabres to get control. Blum slipped a pass to Geoffrion, who was stationed to the right of the net. Miller moved to the post as Geoffrion shoved the puck toward the net. Miller did not control the puck and Geoffrion kept whacking at it until he knocked it under Miller's pad to make the score 3-2 Buffalo with 2:27 remaining in the game.

Nashville forced a face off in the Buffalo zone after Miller froze the puck on a shot to the net. Geoffrion won the draw back to Cody Franson, who walked the blue line and let go a quick wrist shot. On the way to the net, Geoffrion tipped the puck and re-directed it past Miller for the game tying goal at 18:37 and his first hat trick in the NHL. The hattie came in only Geoffrion's 11th game in the NHL.

Neither team could score in the waning moments of the third period, and although both teams got a point, the Sabres were stunned. All the energy and momentum was now on the side of the Predators.

The Predators ended the overtime period quickly. Ryan Suter drove the puck inside the face off circle, drawing the defense to him. He slipped a quick pass to Marty Erat who scorched a one-timer past a defenseless Miller for the game winner just 27 seconds into overtime.

When the Predators were facing a 3-1 deficit and little time on the clock, it would have been easy to fold and say this game wasn't meant to be. The aspect of this team that cannot be measured is the heart and character of the players that put on the Predators sweater. They didn't look good at times, but they kept battling and refused to fold. This win can be a hallmark win for the Predators this season, one that they can use to build upon and do great things.

Because they didn't quit.

Head Coach Barry Trotz talks about defining moments- games and sequences in games that show that of which you are made. He says it so much it sometimes becomes cliche among the fans. While running the risk of sounding just as cliche as Trotzy, this was a defining moment game. This was a game that showed this team they are never out of it.

Blake Geoffrion has shown that he is NHL ready. The young man is going to be quite a player for the Predators. Jonathan Blum has exceeded any expectations that I had when he was called up. The young players are getting a baptism by fire and they are showing that they can handle the pressure.

With the win, the Predators are 38-25-10 and have jumped into 6th in the Western Conference for the time being with 86 points.

You now have a 9 game season, boys, and 7 of them are at home. Each of these games will be a game in which you can define yourself as a player and as a team.

Time to bring it.

My three stars:

1. Blake Geoffrion

2. Marty Erat

3. Nathan Gerbe


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