The Nashville Predators traveled to the great white North to take on the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center in a game that saw the Predators seeking redemption for the putrid effort the night before in Nashville.
Pekka Rinne once again got the start for the Predators as the Wild went with Josh Harding as Nicklas Backstrom was out of the lineup to attend to personal business.
The Predators opened the contest looking just like they did in their debacle against Edmonton the night before. Minnesota was out skating the Predators and got the first four shots on goal. For Predator fans, this was a big "uh-oh" and the thought was "here we go again."
The Predators got their legs under them and started skating with the Wild, and when they did, they were very competitive.
Jordin Tootoo got the Predators on the board with their first shot on goal at 5:21of the first period as he skated the puck out of the corner straight to the front of the net. Tootoo jammed the puck in on Harding and the puck got through his pads and trickled into the net to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. Rookie Craig Smith picked up an assist on the play, giving him 15 points on the season.
The period was a back and forth contest with both teams generating some good chances. In the period, the Wild out shot the Predators 10-9, which is a decidedly better effort than the Predators put forth in their previous contest.
The second period was scoreless, but not for lack of effort by both teams. Both Rinne and Harding came up with some big saves for their respective squads. Each team created some good scoring opportunities from close in, but both netminders were up to the task. The Predators certainly made their task tougher in the period as they had to kill off a 4 minute double minor for high sticking by Colin Wilson.
In the second period, the Wild out shot the Predators 11-8.
Once again, this young team was going into the third period with a lead, and they knew they would face the inevitable push from the Wild. And once again, the question that hung in the balance was "Would the Predators be able to lock down the other team and hold the lead?"
That question was answered just 1:05 into the third period as the Predators got caught with 4 men down low and gave up a 2 on 1 that Dany Heatley buried to tie the game.
The Predators did their best to give the game to the Wild as the period wore on. They took back to back penalties to Craig Smith and Ryan Suter, with Suter's penalty coming with just 13 seconds remaining in Smith's penalty. Yes, both penalties were questionable calls, but nevertheless, the Predators put themselves in a precarious position. Although they were able to kill off the brief 5 on 3, the Predators could not kill Suter's penalty as Kyle Brodziak took a shot that Rinne got most of, but couldn't stop it and the puck found the net to give the Wild a 2-1 lead at 9:39.
Perhaps more indicative of the Predators imminent collapse was the fact that the Predators had only mustered 2 shots on goal through 12 minutes of the period. Yes, one of those shots was highway robbery on Sergei Kostitsyn by Harding, but it still remains a troubling fact that the Predators offense cannot seem to put in a full 60 minutes of effort.
The wheels came off for the Predators at 13:19 of the third as the Predators gave up a shorthanded goal. Rinne came out to play the puck that was dumped down the ice and stumbled and could not get back into position. Cal Clutterbuck picked up the puck and scored what will probably be his easiest goal of the season as he had nothing but an open net into which to shoot the puck.
The Predators demonstrated some heart and pulled within one at 13:57 as they scored on a 5 on 3 power play. Jordin Tootoo took the puck at the goal line and found Ryan Suter alone in the low slot. His quick wrist shot beat harding over his shoulder to make it 3-2 Wild. This was Suter's 5th goal of the season, topping his goal total from last season.
The Predators has a chance to tie the game as Ryan Suter hit both posts with a shot and the team still on the man advantage. Harding was able to swallow up the rebound in a furious scramble in the blue paint to thwart the Predators.
The Predators were unable to generate any more offense, and once again, a game that they led going into the third period was given away, victimized by another 20 minutes of poor hockey.
Same song, different verse.
And it's becoming a very tired refrain.
The shots on goal were 8 to 8 in the third period, but the majority of those shots for the Predators came during desperation time. Frankly boys, when you go through 12 minutes of a period- especially one where you have a lead and are trying to squeeze out the opposition- you more often than not are going to lose the game.
I have often talked about lessons, and some of these lessons are painful. I guess it hasn't gotten painful enough for this team, because they haven't consistently learned how to take control of a game when they have a lead. Giving up three goals in crunch time is inexplicable and shows that this team has not developed a killer instinct.
Here's a bit of advice: develop that killer instinct. Learn how to finish a game ( and start a game for that matter).
Do that, and you will not be giving games away.
My three stars:
1. Josh Harding
2. Jordin Tootoo
3. Kyle Brodziak