The Nashville Predators scored three first period goals and needed every one of them as they held off the Anaheim Ducks 5-4 for their fifth straight win. With the win, the Predators now have 90 points and currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference. The victory snapped Anaheim's four game win streak, and more importantly stretched their lead over the Ducks to three points and two points over Chicago and Los Angeles, who is playing at this time.
The Predators opened the game with a very strong effort against Anaheim netminder Jonas Hiller, who was making his first appearance after missing 16 games due to suffering from vertigo. The lack of playing time would show for Hiller, as he allowed three goals on just seven shots.
Sergei Kostitsyn open the scoring for the Predators at 2:04 of the first period as Patric Hornqvist took a shot from the right side of the net that leaked between the post and Hiller and was laying in the blue paint. Kostitsyn drove the net and tapped the puck home into a wide open net for a 1-0 Predators lead.
The Predators would extend the lead to 2-0 at 11:18 of the first when Jonathan Blum fired a shot wide of the net and Nick Spaling jumped on the rebound off the end boards and shoved the puck under th pad of Hiller for his 8th goal of the season. This was a smart play by Blum to put the puck in a scoring position and a great hustle play by Spaling to get to the puck and jam it under Hiller's pad.
Just 19 seconds later, the Predators would stretch the lead to 3-0 as Patric Hornqvist would launch a shot toward the net that Sergei Kostitsyn would re-direct past Hiller. 7 shots and three goals and the rusty Hiller would enjoy the rest of the night from the bench as former Predator Dan Ellis would come in to replace the shell shocked starter.
Anaheim would cut the deficit to 3-1 at 16:11 of the first as Corey Perry was left alone at the side of the net. Bobby Ryan found him with a quick pass and he jammed it into the open net past a defenseless Pekka Rinne. The defensive coverage broke down and Rinne had no chance with Perry stationed alone at the side of the net.
The Predators dominated the second period, limiting the Ducks to just five shots on goal and controlling the play in the neutral zone and in the defensive zone. The Predators generated some great offensive chances and were frustrated by Ellis, who made some great saves to keep the Predators off the board.
Rinne was not often challenged, but made a key glove save on a breakaway by Andreas Lilja to keep the Ducks scoreless. Rinne has owned the Ducks this season, and it appeared that the Ducks knew they could not solve the Finnish wall.
The Predators ran their advantage to 4-1 as Jordin Tootoo tallied his fifth goal of the season. Shane O'Brien fed the puck to Tootoo in traffic in the low slot, and he managed to get the shot off and it hit Ellis on the inside of his left leg and found the back of the net. Tootoo played a strong game and was rewarded for his efforts with the marker at 18:20 of the second.
In the third period, the Predators would make the score 5-1 with a short handed goal by David Legwand. With Shane O'Brien in the box for delay of game, Legwand broke into the offensive zone with Joel Ward. Ward drove to the net and was screened Dan Ellis. Legwand ripped a shot that hit the far side post and then into the net as Ward was checked into Ellis by Saku Koivu but Ward was called for goaltender interference after the score. A bizarre call to say the least.
The Ducks would score just 10 seconds later on the 5 on 3 power play as Teemu Selanne tallied his 24th goal of the season.
Selanne would notch his second 5 on 3 goal at 15:14 of the third to cut the lead to 5-3 Predators. The puck was tipped off the stick of Ryan Suter past Rinne, who had no chance on the re-directed puck. Frankly, Anaheim was not going to score unless it was the Predators allowing them to score with their mistakes.
And the Predators would make a lot of mistakes in the third period.
Corey Perry would strike again at 19:34 of the third period to make it 5-4. On this weird score, Ryan Suter would try to kick the fluttering shot of Perry out of harms way, but instead would kick the puck over the shoulder of Rinne and into the net.
The Predators would hold off Anaheim for the final 26 seconds to secure an all important win and gather the two precious points, but dang, that third period was stressful.
The truth is that the Predators dominated the Ducks, and if they had not made in essence two scores for the Ducks, the game would have been a rout. Perhaps more importantly, the Predators have to realize they cannot let teams climb back into games with them. The Predators were guilty of opening the door for the Ducks with penalties and with scores on their own goalie.
Fortunately for the Predators, their offensive explosion was enough to vanquish the Ducks. Play this haphazardly against the teams that remain on the schedule and the outcome will not be as favorable.
It goes without saying this was a big win for the Predators, not only from the standings but from a mental aspect as well. This was a challenge for this team, one that could very well determine a playoff spot. The Ducks were coming off an improbable win against Dallas the night before and had momentum. The Predators jumped on the Ducks early and kept the pressure up throughout the game. Erase the last 10 minutes of the contest and this was a textbook game.
You can't, however, erase those last 10 minutes. What the team can do is learn from the mistakes that were made and correct them. The remaining games on the schedule are going to be a war, and it will be imperative for this team to correct these types of mistakes and bring their best effort.
The bottom line: the Predators won the game and picked up the points. Build on this momentum and take care of business when Dallas comes to town.
My three stars:
1. Sergei Kostitsyn
2. Corey Perry
3. Teemu Selanne
Ryan Suter (scoring two goals for the Ducks)