The Nashville Predators defeated the Dallas Stars and Mike Leggo and Brad Watson, the referees, 4-2 for their 6th straight win at the Bridgestone Arena. The win runs the Predators record to 41-25-10, good for 92 points and 6th in the Western Conference.
This was another critical win for the Predators as they defeated a team that is chasing them in the race for a playoff position. The Predators entered the game with a 2 point lead over the Stars, and when the night was over had stretched that lead to 6 points. With the Predators fighting for playoff position, every game is vital, and it is even more so when playing a team that is chasing them in the standings. Taking care of business was essential for the Predators.
Take care of business they did.
Dallas opened the scoring at 8:49 of the first period as Alex Goligoski tallied with a quick wrist shot over the shoulder of Pekka Rinne. The Stars got the man advantage as Sergei Kostitsyn was in the box for high sticking.
The 1-0 lead did not look good for the Predators as Dallas was working their trap effectively and clogging the neutral zone and not allowing the Predators to enter the zone cleanly. The Dallas trap was especially effective in throttling the Predators offense early in the contest.
The Predators would finally settle down and would start to solve the Stars trap game as the first period wore on. Their effort would pay off at 14:26 of the first period as Martin Erat would fire a shot on Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen kicked out the rebound and David Legwand was the beneficiary as he drove hard to the net and jammed home the rebound under Lehtonen's pad to tie the game with his 16th goal of the year.
The Predators would take a 2-1 lead at 2:33 of the second period as Mike Fisher would rip a wrist shot over the shoulder of Lehtonen and off the post and into the net. Fisher's shot was a rocket that Lehtonen saw but could not stop. This was Fisher's 16th goal of the season and his second as a Predator, and it was good to see the hard working forward get back on the score sheet.
Dallas would tie the game on what can only be called a fluky goal. Brendon Morrow flipped the puck from behind the net toward the goal. It hit the stick of Blake Geoffrion and spun wildly over the net, where it hit the back of Rinne and fell into the net at 4:07 of the second.
Goals are goals, but damn, I'm tired of seeing the Predators victimized by bizarre goals.
The play was set up by a blatant trip on Predators defenseman Shea Weber that was not called. Both the aforementioned officials Leggo and Watson inexplicably chose to ignore the trip that set up the Stars scoring opportunity. This was the first of several suspect calls by these officials.
The Predators continued to break the Dallas trap and generate some quality chances. The Predators had a scoring opportunity late in the second as the line of Jerred Smithson, Nick Spaling, and Jordin Tootoo created some offensive zone presence. Tootoo drove the net searching for a centering pass from Spaling and was tackled into the net by a Dallas defenseman.
I will let you guess if there was a call against the Stars.
If you said there was no call, you would be right.
The Predators would take a 3-2 lead at 9:07 of the second period as Ryan Suter fired a shot that Lehtonen blocked with his pad. Mike Fisher was cruising across the low slot and gathered in the rebound and fired a backhand shot into the open net for his second goal of the game and his 17th of the season.
There was no further scoring in the second period, but with a one goal lead, Predator nation could not rest easy going into the third period.
The Predators did a great job in the third period of limiting the chances of the Stars, forcing them to the perimeter for many of their shots. When the Stars did get a quality chance, Rinne was there to clean up the chances.
The third period was a punch/counter-punch period, with the Predators limiting the Stars opportunities and the Stars thwarting the Predators offensive chances. As the period wound down, the game was in the balance.
Once again, Watson and Leggo would do their best to tip the balance in favor of the Stars. With just 2 minutes remaining in the contest, Ryan Suter was called for a brutal and phantom hooking call on a great check. The final minutes of the contest would see the Predators down a man.
Gut check time for the Predators, a test of their character.
And they would pass the test with flying colors. In spite of the officiating.
The Predators PK did not let the Stars get into any rhythm and rarely let them gain the zone with any speed. The penalty killers were able to clear the zone effectively and not let the Stars get established in their offense.
Dallas would pull Lehtonen to give the Stars a 6 on 4 advantage, but it was to no avail. The Predators cleared the puck to David Legwand, who potted an empty netter with 4 seconds remaining in the period.
More importantly, game over and two huge points for the Predators, who continue to cement a playoff position. This was a game that was a test of character and mental toughness, one that saw the Predators face a team that was desperate and chasing them in the standings. The ability of the Predators to overcome a talented Stars squad and horrific officiating speaks well to their character and their mental toughness.
A word about the 7th man- the fans at the Bridgestone Arena. There is no other arena in the NHL that has fans respond like the Predator nation. The standing ovation during the television timeout is becoming known throughout the league. It encourages the home team and intimidates the visitors. One can look at the visiting team bench and see them looking around with a "WTF" expression and reaction at the outpouring of emotion and enthusiasm of the home crowd. One can also look at the Predator players and see them respond as well. They are energized by the crowd. They are one with their fans who are in full throat and willing their team to a greater effort and to victory. Tonight, the 7th man came through again.
Six straight wins feels good. The job is not done. There are more points to gather and positioning to be determined.
Keep playing with this kind of effort and you will continue to stymie your opponents.
My three stars:
1. Mike Fisher
2. David Legwand
3. Patric Hornqvist