Thursday, December 1, 2011

Predators Cap an Improbable Comeback, Vanquish Vancouver 6-5

The Nashville Predators faced a monumental task, trying to get their game back on track against a formidable for in the form of the Vancouver Canucks at the Rogers Centre in Vancouver. The Predators came into the game 4-4-2 in their last 10 games, while the Cancucks entered the contest on a tear, with an 8-2 record in their last 10 contests.

Nashville had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Canucks countered with their red hot goalie- no, not that guy- Cory Schnieder, who was 5-0 in his last five starts.

The Predators changed up their lines, moving Craig Smith up on a line with Mike Fisher and Marty Erat. Smith was replacing the injured Sergei Kostitsyn, and the hope was that this line would generate some offensive push for the Predators, who desperately needed some scoring.

The Predators opened the contest skating hard and generating some offensive chances. Their offensive efforts would be short circuited early as the aforementioned Smith would get called for hooking. Fortunately for the Predators, Dan Hamhuis was called for holding just 58 seconds into the power play.

Shortly after the Predators went on the power play, Colin Wilson dug the puck out from behind the net and passed it to David Legwand. Legwand ripped a shot short side over the shoulder of Schneider to make it 1-0 Predators at 5:44 of the first period.

The Predators would make it 2-0 on a goal by Mike Fisher at 8:16. Fisher took a pass from Marty Erat and was strong on the puck driving the net. His backhand shot beat Schneider to the far side post and the Predators had tallied goals on their first two shots of the game.

One of the keys for the Predators was to stay out of the box, as the Canucks have the number one ranked PP unit in the NHL. Unfortunately, Shea Weber didn't get that memo, as he was called for holding. Cody Hodgson made the Predators pay for their transgression as he drove the net and beat Pekka Rinne over his shoulder to make it 2-1 at 9:58 of the first period.

The Predators managed to kill off a Marty Erat penalty (whew!) and got back to even strength and skated well with the Canucks. They managed to keep an explosive offensive relatively in check, helped by some good saves from Pekka Rinne.

At 18:49 of the first period, Henrik Sedin was called for for hooking. Cory Schneider made an amazing save on a Shea Weber blast from the blue line. Weber would get his revenge with just 10 seconds left on the period as he had crept down low in the zone and lifted the puck over Schneider to make it 3-1 Predators.

The Predators power play was very efficient, as was their offensive effort. The Predators scored on both their power plays and on 3 of their 5 shots in the period. The Canucks were held to seven shots in the first period.

A solid period of hockey by the Predators, save for the the three trips to the penalty box. It was time for this team to put together a full 60 minutes of hockey and capture an important victory.

Roberto Luongo came in for the Canucks to start the second period.

Once again, the Predators could not stay out of the box, and it bit them in the ass.With Jerred Smithson in the box for slashing, Daniel Sedin got loose at the side of the net and beat Rinne with a shot that Rinne would like to have back at 3:10 of the second.

Just 48 seconds later, Aaron Volpati got free in the low slot and beat Rinne five hole to tie the game at 3.

So much for that solid 60 minutes of hockey by the Predators. They now had to get momentum on their side and take back control of the game.

The Canucks took a 4-3 lead as Henrik Sedin walked out from behind the net and it was re-directed by Alex Burrows at 8:16 of the second period. Three goals erased all the momentum and work of the first period as the Predators collapse was in full swing in this period.

The defense of the Predators had become a sieve in this period, and it was burning the Predators. An absolutely horrific defensive effort in this period had victimized the Predators as they saw their momentum and their lead evaporate.

Jannik Hansen made it 5-3 Canucks at 10:29 as he blew a puck past Rinne, who was unscreened. That was it as Rinne was pulled and Anders Lindback came on for the Predators.

Jordin Tootoo has shown no quit in his game, and he got loose just inside the face off circle and rifled a shot past Luongo at 16:09 off as assist from Ryan Suter and Craig Smith. Tootoo's effort momentarily halted the momentum of the Canucks and breathed some new life into the Predators. This was Tootoo's third goal of the season, and for the night, Craig Smith had three assists.

Colin Wilson tied the game on the power play with Ryan Kessler in the box as he took a nice feed from David Legwand. Wilson was breaking in and took the puck to his backhand and lifted the puck over the shoulder of Luongo for the Predators third power play goal of the game.

Just when it looked as if the Predators had given up, suddenly, they showed some heart and clawed their way back into this game. Tied at 5, this game has the makings of a wild affair going into the third period.

The third period was back and forth, mostly back for the Predators as the Predators were kept on their heels for most of the period by the aggressive offensive attack of the Canucks. Lindback made some big saves, and for the most, the Predators were struggling to generate some offense.

That would change at 18:35 of the third as Marty Erat broke in toward the net and fed Mike Fisher who backhanded the puck over the sprawling Luongo to give the Predators an improbable 6-5 lead.

As unreal as it appeared after the Predators collapsed in the early part of the second period, they had come back to claim a huge 6-5 road win over a quality opponent.

This is the kind of win that can prove to be pivotal for a young team. Learning how to face down adversity and come back from a disastrous period of hockey. Learning how to keep fighting and scrapping and realizing that you are never out of a game.

Vancouver out shot the Predators 37-20, and kudos go to Anders Lindback, who stopped all 19 shots he faced.

In previous games, this team would have folded in the face of this kind of adversity. Tonight, they kept fighting. Tonight, they grew up a little.

This team still has lessons to learn. Never let an opponent claw their way back into the game like you did tonight, boys.

The other lesson? You are never out of it. Your heart and your fight and your character carried you to a win tonight.

Build on that lesson.

My three stars:

1. Mike Fisher

2. Anders Lindback

3. Colin Wilson

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