The Nashville Predators ventured to the Pepsi Center to do battle with the Colorado Avalanche. Even though it is early January, this game took on some significance because the Predators stood just one point in front of the Avs in the standings, with the Predators in 7th place with 48 points and the Avalanche in tied for 9th with 47 points.
This would be the first of four meetings with the Avalanche and the first of two consecutive games between the two teams.
The Predators opened with Pekka Rinne in net, while the Avalanche had Semyon Varlamov tending the pipes.
The Predators opened the scoring at 4:31 of the first period as the line of Jordin Tootoo, Gabriel Bourque, and Nick Spaling continued their stellar play. Tootoo and Bourque battled behind the net for the puck, and Tootoo won the puck battle and slipped the puck to Spaling in the low slot. Spaling's wrist shot was hammered past Varlamov to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.
With T.J. Galiardi in the box for tripping, the Predators potent power play continued the effectiveness as Ryan Ellis blasted a shot from inside the blue line over the glove of a screened Varlamov to give the Predators a 2-0 lead at 7:18 of the first. Patric Hornqvist was in front of the net and did a very good job of taking away the eyes of Varlamov on Ellis' shot.
The Predators continued their assault on Varlamov as Marty Erat unleashed a dart at Varlamov that absolutely fooled the Avs netminder and found the back of the net through the five hole to make it 3-0 Predators at 15:35 of the first period. Erat took the puck in the face off circle and did not hesitiate, letting go a quick snap shot. This is the what this team needs out of Erat- shots on goal, and he was rewarded with a score on his first shot.
At the end of the first period, the Predators out shot the Avalanche 13-6. That doesn't tell the whole story, however. The Predators were dominant on the forecheck, forcing turnovers and limiting the Avs breakouts theough the neutral zone. Their low cycle controlled the puck and created quality scoring opportunities. The line of Tootoo, Spaling, and Bourque were outstanding.
After this solid first period, the Predators were going to need to come out in the second period and continue their solid effort.
The Predators opened the second period with some good scoring chances, but Varlamov was equal to the task of turning aside the Predators chances. Colrado came with their inevitable puck back, and began to control the puck in the Predators zone. The Avs were aided by a questionable goaltender interference call on Matt Halischuk, but the the Predators PK unit was able to stymie the Avs chances. During this stretch, Rinne came up with some good saves to keep the Avs off the board.
Throughout the period, the Avs dominated play and kept the Predators bottled up in their zone and limited the offensive opportunities. The Predators were badly out shot by a margin of 18-6.
Late in the period, Francis Buillon was called for hooking, and the Avalanche made the Predators pay for their infraction. Ryan O'Reilly tipped a puck past Rinne off a pass from Paul Stastny to make it a 3-1 contest at 18:25 of the second.
The Predators survived the second period. That is about all that can be said about it. They were back on their heels and spent much of the period chasing the puck. This type of play set up a third period in which everyone knew that the Avs were going to come out again with another strong push. It was going to be incumbent on the Predators to come out with more jump and answer the push from the Avs.
The Avs opened the third period with a continued strong push. The difference in this period was that the Predators responded. After being out shot 5-0 to open the period, the Predators came back with a strong forecheck and started to get shots in on Varlamov. The Predators forecheck began to disrupt the Avs offensive push and forced them to get deeper in their zone. This created some chances for the Predators and it felt like the Predators were beginning to take momentum back to their side.
The Predators finally broke through at 15:34 of the third period as Ryan Ellis was able to hold the puck in at the blue line. He got a pass to Patric Hornqvist in the high slot, and his quick wrist shot beat Varlamov high over the glove side to restore the Predators 3 goal lead at 4-1.
The Predators held off the Avs for the remainder of the period and secured an important victory against a team that is desperately chasing them in the standings. The importance of this type of game is that it essentially a 4 point game, and with the win, the Predators extended their lead over the Avs to 3 points.
Kudos to the kids for their play tonight. Gabriel Bourque, Ryan Ellis, and Roman Josi had solid games. This is what had been hoped- that these young players would mature quickly and contribute, and they did that tonight.
The Avs out shot the Predators 33-26, and it goes without saying that Pekka Rinne kept the Predators in the contest in the second period when the Predators offense struggled. Rinne was outstanding, thwarting the Avs offensive chances.
This was a quality win by the Predators. We are watching a young team grow up and become a real force. This has to continue for the Predators to be successful.
Keep doing this and you will bury more opponents
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Ryan Ellis
3. Nick Spaling