The start of the Nashville Predators game with the Columbus Blue Jackets was delayed 15 minutes because of a balky pane of glass. That delay just postponed the inevitable as the Predators won their 17th straight game on home ice over the Blue Jackets by a score of 4-1 and in the process clinched a playoff berth.
This was not an inconsequential game for the Predators, because if they had lost this game and the game tomorrow night at St. Louis, and Dallas won out, the Predators would be on the outside looking in when the playoffs rolled around. Would the Predators have the focus and the drive to do what was necessary against a team that always played them tough?
The answer was a resounding "yes".
Pekka Rinne got the start as expected and was stellar in net. Columbus outshot the Predators by a wide margin, 45-25. Yes, many of these shots were from the perimeter, but Rinne was called upon to make several solid saves. He was spectacular at the start of the second period, a period that saw the BJ's outshoot the Predators 22-7. Early in the second, Rinne made several amazing saves to hold Columbus off the board.
The Predators opened the scoring at 6:00 of the first period when Mike Fisher made a strong drive through the Jackets defense. He split two defenders on the rush, drew the defense to him and Columbus netminder Steve Mason to the post. He slid the puck to Patric Hornqvist driving into the low slot and Hornqvist had an easy tap in for the Predators first goal and the only goal of the period.
Rinne's strong play held the Jackets off the board and the Predators rallied around the Finnish wall.
Matt Halsichuk scored at 1:48 of the second with a nice move that got Mason moving from side to side. Halischuk slipped the shot from the slot under the pad of Mason to stretch the lead to 2-0. Halischuk continues to play well in both zones and has earned the confidence of the coaches with his play. It is nice to see him rewarded with his 4th goal of the season.
The Predators stretched the lead to 3-0 just 54 seconds later as Patric Hornqvist intercepted a lazy clear by the Jackets defenese and rifled a backhander over the shoulder of Mason.This was Hornqvist's 21st goal of the season, and his play continues to be full tilt every night. I have been impressed with the effort he brings to the ice every night.
Derek Brassard finally solved Rinne with a wicked slap shot at 18:38 of the second period. This goal was a result of a failed clear by the Predators defense, and cost Rinne his shutout.
The Predators regained the 3 goal lead at 12:25 of the third period as Sergei Kostitsyn notched his 23rd goal of the year off a pass from Patric Hornqvist. The pass caromed off the leg of Kostitsyn past Mason, and after a video review, it was deemed a good goal.
Game, set, and match.
Early on, when the Predators jumped out to the 3-0 lead, you could look at the faces of the BJ's and just see the "oh no, here we go again" expression. The fact that the BJ's haven't won in Nashville since April 2006 is in their heads. They look as if they expect something bad to happen when they step on the ice in Nashville.
Sure, the Jackets were without Rick Nash and Kris Russell, but the Predators are dealing with a myriad of injuries as well. This game was a matter of "want to". Who wanted to do what was necessary to win the game? Who had the better compete level? Who would do what it would take to win the game?
In all phases, that was the Predators.
With the win, the Predators record is 44-26-11, good for 99 points and 4th in the West. With a win tomorrow in St. Louis, the Predators could finish the year in 4th place and secure home ice advantage.
More importantly, the Predators have clinched a spot in the playoffs. Now it is time to get the first round monkey off their backs.
There is a lot more hockey to be played, boys. It's now time to bring a new level of effort for the playoffs.
Time to clobber some more opponents.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Patric Hornqvist
3. Matt Halischuk