Saturday, March 19, 2011

Young Guns Lead the Predators Over the Wings 3-1

The Nashville Predators made a strategic decision at the trade deadline to stand pat and rely on their young players to help carry the load over the remainder of the season. Tonight, youth was served as two first year players led the Nashville Predators to a 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

With the win, the Predators have captured 4 of 5 games against the Red Wings this season. More importantly for the Predators, this was their 4th win in the last 5 games and currently moves them back into a playoff spot in the tightly bunched Western Conference race.

The win give the Predators a record of 37-25-10 and good for 84 points, tied with Chicago for the 7th position in the Western Conference.

Detroit opened the scoring on the power play at 19:38 of the first period. Sergei Kostitsyn was called for elbowing, and just 8 seconds into the power play, the Wings capitalized as Dan Cleary was able to tip the puck over the shoulder of Pekka Rinne for his 23rd goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.

The score could have been 2-0 as an apparent goal by Niklas Kronwall was waved off by referee Stephen Walkom because it was ruled that Tomas Holmstrom interfered with Rinne. The first big break of the game had gone to the Predators with this call.

It was going to be important for the Predators to respond to the score by the Wings. They could ill afford to fall behind by two goals.

Respond the did.

In the second period, the Predators did an excellent job of forechecking and limiting the scoring chances by the Red Wings. They outshot Detroit 18-9 in the period and generated some quality scoring chances.

The offensive effort paid off at 8:42 of the period as first year player Blake Geoffrion scored his third goal of the season and his first on home ice to tie the game. Geoffrion took a centering pass from Patric Hornqvist and tipped the puck over the shoulder of Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard. The goal was very similar to the goal the Wings scored late in the first period and was the result of Geoffrion driving the net and scoring from the hard area at the top of the blue paint. A blue collar goal and typical of how the Predators have scored many of their goals this season.

Late in the second period, Mike Modano streaked in on a breakaway and hit the crossbar with 1:18 remaining. Rinne challenged Modano and was big in the net, forcing the dangerous Wings forward to shoot high.

The second big break of the game goes to the Predators.

Tied at 1 going into the third, this contest would be one that would be decided by who wanted the game more. Who was mentally and physically tougher and would capitalize on their opportunities?

That would be the Predators.

Shane O'Brien pinched in from his defensive position and drove the net. He was tripped by Henrik Zetterberg, and on the ensuing power play, the Predators made the Wings pay.

Sergei Kostitsyn ripped a shot from the slot that caromed off a leg of a Wings defenseman and came directly to Jonathan Blum, who was crashing the net from his defensive position. Blum rifled a shot between Howard and the far post to give the Predators a 2-1 lead at 8:12 of the third period.

One knew the Wings would be coming hard at the Predators over the remainder of the game. As he had done all night, Pekka Rinne made some huge stops for the Predators and kept the Wings off the board. Rinne had an outstanding game, stopping 39 of 40 shots that he faced.

David Legwand would seal the win for the Predators with an empty net goal at 19:38 of the third, and the Predators captured 2 precious points. This was especially sweet as they came at the hands of one of their fiercest rivals.

The Predators showed no quit and refused to yield to the talent and the pressure of Detroit. Throughout the night, the Predators were the more physical team, pounding Detroit with booming body checks. Their physical play was instrumental in setting the tone for the game and turning momentum in their favor.

A special mention should go to the play of Shane O'Brien. O'Brien was physical all night and agitated the Wings, especially getting under the skin of Todd Bertuzzi and taking the big forward off his game. O'Brien did a great job of moving the puck and creating opportunities for the Predators. In my view, it was one of the best games he has played as a member of the Predators.

One could question the reliance on the young players by the Predators. The truth is they have made some rookie mistakes during their time on the ice. Yet players like Blake Geoffrion and Jonathan Blum have accepted the challenge before them and they have contributed positively. Blum has shown that he can be a solid defenseman and his presence on the power play gives the Predators another offensive option. Geoffrion has shown a willingness to go to the hard areas and battle for the puck and for scoring chances.

Youth will be served.

There is no doubt that the young guys will have to contribute for this team to be successful. It will take the enthusiasm and effort of this entire squad to get into the playoffs.

This is the trial by fire, not only for the young guys but for every player on the Predators. This is playoff hockey right now. This is your challenge.

Continue to play with heart. Continue to bring it every game.

And the playoffs will be your reward.

My three stars:

1. Jonathan Blum

2. Blake Geoffrion

3. Pekka Rinne

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