The Nashville Predators brought a depleted line up to Scott Trade Center to take on the St. Louis Blues in the final contest of 2011. The Predators were without Shea Weber, Kevin Klein, and a late scratch, Colin Wilson, who was ruled out with and upper body injury.
Pekka Rinne was in net for the Predators, while the Blues had the resurgent Jaroslav Halak in net.
For the Predators, it was going to be critical that they come out skating hard and playing Predator hockey with this depleted line up. If the Blues got the lead, it was their style to trap the life out of their opponent, something that has given the Predators fits this season.
The Predators did just that, as Roman Josi pinched off the boards and drove the net. Halak kicked a rebound of Josi's shot into the slot, and Matt Halischuk drove the net and chipped the puck over Halak's pads to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 2:16 of the first period.
At 11:06, David Legwand took a saucer pass from Marty Erat, which hit his foot and ricocheted past Halak. The goal was disallowed as it was deemed that the goal occurred because the puck was kicked into the net.
Immediatley after the face off, he Blues rang a shot off the cross bar as Rinne acrobatically dove across the crease.
T. J. Oshie tied the game at 1 at 13:40 as he gathered in a loose puck in a goal mouth scramble and lifted the puck over Rinne.
The remainder of the period was scoreless, as the Predators killed off a questionable boarding call against Brian McGrattan. They ended the period on a power play as Chris Stewart was called for hooking Craig Smith on a great breakaway attempt. Smith's shot went over the crossbar and into the net as he was being harassed by Stewart. The Predators would open the second period with 40 seconds of power play time.
For the Predators, it was a solid first period as they skated hard and out shot the Blues 14-11.
In the second period, the Blues used their size to muscle the Predators defense and control play in the Predators zone. The defense battled and worked to force the Blues to the perimeter, but the Blues were starting to use their size to wear down the defense.
Pekka Rinne made some big saves to keep the Blues off the board. For the Predators, their best scoring chance came on the penalty kill as Marty Erat stole the puck and went in on a breakaway. He tried to go five hole on Halak, but Halak was able to close the five hole and stop Erat.
The Predators killed off two Blues power plays during the second period, and once again, would have carryover power play time- 50 seconds- to start the third period as David Backes was in the box for hooking.
The Blues out shot the Predators 14-10 in the second period, and this was a period that resembled a heavyweight fight. Both teams traded scoring opportunities and mounted offensive challenges. Both teams responded, and going into the third period, this was a contest that was typical of the Predators and Blues previous contests this season: tight checking and looking for any opportunity to capitalize on a mistake by the other team.
Once again, the third period was a back and forth tilt, as both teams had offensive chances and both netminders were up to the task. The Predators defense had one of their better showings, especially against a bigger and very talented group of forwards for the Blues. Each team kept up the pressure on the other, but neither was able to find the back of the net to end the third period tied at 1.
St. Louis out shot Nashville 8-7 in the third period, and for regulation, the Blues held a two shot advantage 33-31.
The conservative defensive style of the first 60 minutes went out the window in overtime as both teams had rushes up the ice and quality scoring chances. Neither team was able to tally the game winning goal as each had three shots on goal.
For the second game in a row, the Predators were going to a shootout. If you remember, this was the way the last game with the Blues was decided, a game that was won by the Predators 2-1.
St. Louis elected for Nashville to shoot first, and Mike Fisher was the first shooter for the Predators, and he beat Halak but rang his shot off the pipe.
T. J. Oshie was the first shooter for the Blues and he was stoned by Rinne as he closed the pads as Oshie tried to go five hole.
Craig Smith was stopped by Halak on a backhand attempt.
David Perron was the next shooter, and his shot hit Rinne's shoulder and then the crossbar for no goal.
David Legwand was stopped off the forehand by Halak's arm.
Patrick Bergland was stopped by Rinne, although the puck went in the net but it was double tapped by Bergland for no goal.
Matt Halischuk missed the net high for the Predators.
David Backes was stopped by Rinne's blocker.
Marty Erat finally solved Halak as he beat him top corner over his glove to give the Predators a 1-0 lead in the shootout.
With the game on the line, Pekka Rinne stopped Kevin Shattenkirk to seal the win for the Predators, again another 2-1 shootout win over the Blues.
For the Blues, this was their third loss in three attempts against the Predators this season.
The Predators showed immense heart and grit in this win. Make no mistake, St. Louis is a quality club and they are sitting in front of the Predators in the standings. That made this game even more important for the Predators, and they played like it. Going into the contest with several key players out of the line up, it would have been easy to roll over against the Blues. Instead, this team fought for 65 minutes and their compete level was as good as it has been all season. They were gritty and skated hard and refused to wilt in the face of the pressure of the Blues. This was truly a character win.
With this win, the Predators have closed that gap to three points, 47 to 44.
You can see this young team growing game by game in confidence and maturity. They are starting to believe in themselves and in the game they are playing.
And that is what it takes to win these kind of games.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Jaroslav Halak
3. Marty Erat