With 15 games remaining in the regular season, you hate to think that this game against Minnesota was a must win for the Predators, but with their play of late, this game was definitely one the Predators had to have. The Predators played with this game with a sense of urgency, dispatching the Wild 4-0 at the Bridgestone Arena.
Coming into this contest, the Predators had gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, and needed to right the ship and get the long home stand off on a right start. They did just that, as Joel Ward tallied at 3:13 of the first, taking a nice pass from David Legwand from behind the net and snapping the puck over the glove of Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom.Ward had a strong game and continued his strong play of late with his second goal in as many games.
The Predators continued to dominate the Wild in the first period, controlling play and giving the Wild no offensive chances. The Wild recorded only five shots in the first period.
The defensive effort by the Predators led to more offensive chances, and the Predators capitalized on those opportunities. Nick Spaling was the beneficiary of a great effort by Jerred Smithson, who backhanded the puck to Spaling while being knocked to the ice. Spaling gathered in the puck at the side of the net and beat Backstom at 4:01 to stretch the advantage to 2-0 for the Predators.
The lead would grow to 3-0 at 12:32 of the first as Marty Erat would backhand a puck over a sprawling Backstom. Erat took a pass from Joel Ward and buried the shot for his 12th goal of the season.
3-0 at the end of one period and the Wild held to only 5 shots, one wondered if the old Predators would come out for the second period. You know, the team that has had a good period of hockey and would sit back and let the other team climb back into the game.
As good as the Predators defensive effort was in the first period- holding the Wild to 5 shots- it was even better in the second. In that period, the Predators held the Wild to just 4 shots. Although the Predators didn't tally a marker in the second, there was no way the Wild were going to score with this type of defensive effort. The Predators did an excellent job of slowing the Wild in the neutral zone and forced them wide in the defensive zone. Their defensive zone presence was as good as it has been all season and never allowed the Wild to establish any offensive rhythm in the second.
This was as good a two periods of hockey as the Predators have played since the All Star break.
In the third period, the Wild outshot the Predators 10-7, but Pekka Rinne was solid in net and cleaned up any scoring chances the Wild might have had.
Nick Spaling would ice the win with his second goal of the night at 14:59 and he corralled the puck in the low slot and slid the puck past Backstrom for his 7th goal of the year.
Indicative of the Predators defensive effort was the job done on Predators killer Martin Havlat, who has scored more goals against the Predators than any other player, with 35. Havlat finished with just 2 shots on goal, both coming in the third period.
Of a concern for the Predators is the condition of Mike Fisher, who missed most of the third period. According to Head Coach Barry Trotz in his post game remarks, Fisher is "fine", but Predator fans know this can mean anything. Hopefully he is back on the ice for Saturday night's contest against the Avalanche.
There are now 14 games left in the regular season. Reasonably, the Predators are going to have to win 9 of those games to assure themselves of a playoff spot.
Play with this same sense of urgency and discipline and you will tame the upcoming opponents and be well positioned to secure a playoff spot.
My three stars:
1. Nick Spaling
2. Joel Ward
3. Pekka Rinne