In the course of a season, there are wins that are things of beauty. There are also wins that are not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but they are wins nonetheless. Tonight, the Nashville Predators won a contest with the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 4-2 that was anything but pretty. But it was a win and two precious points for the Predators.
The game opened with the Nashville Predators going up by a 2-0 margin with opportunistic scoring. Shea Weber tallied his 15th goal of the season just as a Predators power play expired. Weber crashed the net and was able to flip a wrister past Colorado netminder Peter Budaj at 4:16 of the opening period. The Predators were very good at establishing pressure on the power play, and though the Avs got Brandon Yip out of the box- where he was serving the too many men on the ice penalty- the Predators continued to control the play. Joel Ward put a shot on net and Weber was able to get the rebound and put it past Budaj to give the Preds a 1-0 lead.
The Predators would stretch the lead to 2-0 at 11:36 of the first as Kevin Klein would put a shot on net that Budaj kicked out with his pad. Matt Halischuk was crashing the net and gathered in the rebound and lifted the puck over the pad of Budaj for his second goal of the season. The play was started by Blake Geoffrion, who stole the puck in the Avs zone and passed the puck to Klein for the shot. The young guys- Geoffrion and Halischuk had a strong game for the Predators tonight.
In the first period, Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne was called upon to make a few good saves, but generally the Predators controlled the play in the period.
That would change in the second period, as the Avalanche turned up the intensity and it appeared as if the Predators were a step slow and unable to match the level of play of the Avs. In this period, the Avalanche outshot the Predators 16-8 and controlled much of the play. This was in part to the Predators taking penalties, including giving Colorado 1:43 of a two man advantage, which they were able to kill.
Colorado would make it 2-1 at 4:15 of the second as they swarmed the Predators net. Rinne made several saves, but was finally beaten by Ryan O'Reilly to cut the deficit to 1. Momentum and energy were definitely in favor of the Avalanche.
Joel Ward would re-establish the Predators two goal advantage at 13:31 with a beautiful goal. Ward would intercept a pass from Jay McClement at the face off circle. He took a stride toward the net and faked a slapshot to draw Budaj out of the net. Ward pulled the puck back and drove to the net, tucking it into the goal from behind the goal line for his 10th goal of the year and his third straight game with a goal. Wardo was deft in his handling of the puck and patient in drawing Budaj out of the net for the scoring opportunity.
Colorado was not going away easily, however, and they once again cut the deficit to one goal at 19:30 as Daniel Winnik Took a shot from the point. The puck was going wide of the net but hit the skate of Colin Wilson and skittered past Rinne into the net.
This set up a third period that would hang in the balance and would require the Predators to match the intensity of the Avalanche to secure the win.
The Predators responded with a much better defensive effort in the third period, holding Colorado to 9 shots while recording 8 of their own. Rinne was solid in the third period and shut the door on the Avs offensive effort. The defense did a better job of limiting second chances and forcing many of the Avs shots from the outside.
Marty Erat would ice the game with an empty netter at 19:58 of the third for the final margin of 4-2.
This was a game the Predators had to have, yet it was a game in which the Predators effort was less than their best. The fact that they persevered and came away with the win is a sign of the growth of this team. They will have to win some ugly games in this stretch drive. They will have to match the intensity of some desperate teams. They will have to find ways to win games that will not make highlight reels.
Contributions will have to come from all the lines, and it won't necessarily be things that show up on the score sheet. Things like Jordin Tootoo being willing to drop the gloves like he did tonight against Ryan Wilson, pounding him to the ice and energizing his team and the crowd. Things like taking hits to make plays. Things like winning battles for the puck.
At times, the Avs dominated play. The fact that this team refused to wilt in the face of that pressure will serve them well.
The battles will continue and the road to the playoffs will not get an easier.
Keep battling like you did tonight, and you will be successful.
My three stars:
1. Joel Ward
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Matt Halischuk