The Nashville Predators looked to continue their mastery over the Columbus Blue Jackets as the Central Division foes met at Nationwide Arena. The last two games between these teams required some late game magic by the Predators to secure a victory, and the Predators were hoping to avoid finding themselves in such a situation again.
The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Jackets opened with Steve Mason.
The Predators welcomed Jerred Smithson back to the line up after missing several games with a knee injury, but were still without Ryan Suter, who was out with an upper body injury.
The game opened like a typical Predators and Jackets game, with both teams up and down the ice. All that effort by both teams yielded no shots, though, until after 6 minutes had passed in the first period.
As the first period wore on, the Jackets started to assert themselves and control the puck in the Predators zone. . Their effort was rewarded with some quality scoring chances that Rinne had to turn away. On the other end of the ice, the Predators offense never seriously threatened Mason. In the first period, the Jackets out shot the Predators 13-7.
The Predators were going to have to get their legs moving and get shots on net in the second period. Letting the BJ's hang around, and more importantly, create good scoring chances, was not the way for the Predators to win this game.
The second period saw the Predators move their feet better and begin to create some chances. Their work paid off on a 2 on 1 break that saw Sergei Kostitsyn carry the puck in and draw the defense to him. He slid the puck to Marty Erat, who buried a wrist shot from inside the face off circle to make it 1-0 at 11:08 of the second period.
The Predators went on the power play with Derek Dorsett in the box for goaltender interference, and the transgression was costly for the BJ's. Marty Erat got the puck to Mike Fisher at the side of the net through traffic and Fisher had an easy tap in to make it 2-0 at 13:11.
The second period ended with the Predators playing a much better 20 minutes of hockey and a 2-0 lead. They out shot the BJ's 10-7.
This period was a blueprint for the Predators success against a desperate team like the BJ's: get the puck deep, forecheck aggressively, and get shots on net. Oh yeah, play solid defense and limit the Jackets chances.
It was up to the Predators to execute this game plan in the final 20 minutes, because everyone knew the BJ's would have a push in the third period. For the Predators, there was the hope they would not any late game magic to secure a win.
The Jackets had their expected push to start the third period. They kept the Predators back on their heels, and aided by a questionable hooking call on Francis Buillon, bombarded the Predators net to challenge the lead. Pekka Rinne made some huge stops to keep the Jackets off the board, but the Predators were going to need to create some offensive pressure to counter the effort they faced.
Let me re-phrase that: Pekka Rinne made some amazing saves to keep the Jackets off the board. Sprawling, athletic saves that frustrated the BJ's.
To get an idea of how the Predators were being dominated in the third period- and how good Rinne was- they were out shot 17-2 through the first 11 minutes. They Predators offense was non-existent to this point in the third, and if this had been any other team than the BJ's, the Predators would have been in considerable trouble.
Late in the period, Sergei Kostitsyn was called for slashing, and the Jackets pulled Mason for the extra attacker. Off a face off, the puck was near the boards at the face off circle when Shea Weber cleared the puck down the ice and into the empty net to give the Predators a 3-0 lead and the game.
It feels good to win the game, but the Predators were horrid in the third period. The Predators were out shot 18-8, and they spent that period letting the BJ's dictate the play and attack the net at will. Did the Predators play down to their opponent? Or did they relax with the lead and expect Rinne play his usual outstanding game?
Either way, the Predators were lucky to survive the third period, and playing like they did in that period will more often than not result in a loss.
To be sure, this was a much needed win, and it's good to bank the 2 points. There were some positives that the Predators can draw upon as they head toward their game with Chicago. The fact is that this team cannot revert back to playing 20 minutes of hockey and expect to win most games.
Kudos to Rinne for a strong game and his 24th career shutout.
The win gives the Predators 58 points, good for 6th place in the West and 3 ahead of Los Angeles, which plays later tonight.
With the Blackhawks coming to town, the Predators will have to play a full 60 minutes of hockey.
Or they will be blown away.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Marty Erat
3. Mike Fisher