The Nashville Predators rolled into Vancouver in desperate need of a win after struggling to establish consistent momentum over the past few weeks. The task at hand was going to be monumental as they were facing the number one team in the Western Conference in the Vancouver Canucks. Looking at the talent on the ice and the level of play from both teams, this game appeared to be ready made for the Canucks to grab a win before they start a long road trip.
Problem is, when you compare two teams, you can't measure heart.
The Predators exhibited heart, grit, and mental toughness in shutting out the Canucks 3-0. This was the first time that the Canucks have been shut out on home ice this season.
Pekka Rinne stopped all 29 shots he faced, and some of his saves were outstanding. The play of Rinne has been solid all season, but he is elevating his game to another level, and this will always give the Predators a chance to win games.
The game started as a tight checking defensive contest, with each team thwarting the offensive flow of the other. The Predators offensive effort did not get untracked until after the halfway mark of the first period, when Nashville finally recorded their second shot on goal at 9:29. For the period, Vancouver outshot Nashville 11-8.
Rinne made some great saves in the first period to stymie the Canucks, notably stopping Henrik Sedin from the slot. Vancouver's Roberto Luongo had to make a few good saves as well to keep the Predators off the board. However, for the most, both teams were playing suffocating defense and limiting offensive chances.
The second period was a scoreless defensive struggle as well, but both teams had chances in the last five minutes. Mason Raymond rang a puck off the pipe, and just 40 seconds later Jordin Tootoo hit the crossbar. Scoreless at the end of two periods, it was going to be interesting to see which team would crack.
It would be the Canucks that cracked first, as Blake Geofrion cruised into the slot and took a pass from Jordin Tootoo from behind the net. Geoffrion lifted the puck over the shoulder of Luongo to make it 1-0 Predators just 1:59 into the third.
A one goal lead against the explosive Canucks is not one that can make you feel comfortable. The way that we were playing defense, you had to believe that if we had one more goal, this game would fall into the win column for the Predators.
That goal would come at 17:39 as a scene that was all too familiar to Predator fans would unfold in the Canucks defensive zone. Dan Hamhuis would *cough* *hack* up the puck to Patric Hornqvist, who made a great effort to strip the puck. Hornqvist broke in alone on Luongo and undressed him with a sweet move for his 18th goal of the season. Hornqvist continues to battle and bring it every night, and it was good to see him rewarded for his effort.
David Legwand would add an empty netter at 19:25 for his 11th goal to cap the scoring, and as improbable as it seemed, the Predators had clinched a decisive and critical win at Rogers Centre.
The beauty of this win for the Predators was the fact that in a must win game, they continued to battle in the third period, exhibiting mental toughness and grit. Where in previous games they have wilted, they were resilient and unyielding. This is the type of win that the team can build upon going into the sprint to the end of the season. It is the type of win that build confidence and a belief that this team can do what is necessary to make the playoffs.
It will be necessary to continue to play with this sense of desperation and determination. This is playoff hockey right now. The intensity is there in every game that will be played for the remainder of the season. The ability of this team to step up their intensity and level of play like they did tonight will be essential to making the playoffs. This is the proving ground for the team.
Continue to play like you did tonight, with intensity and heart, and you will be well rewarded.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Patric Hornqvist
3. Blake Geoffrion