The Philadelphia Flyers made a rare visit to Nashville to take on the Predators in a barn where they last won in the year 2000. The Predators continued the Flyers misery in the Music City with a 4-2 victory in front of a sell out crowd that had a number of Flyers fans in attendance.
Pekka Rinne started in net for the Predators, while media sensation Ilya Bryzgalov got the start for the Flyers.
The first period was an entertaining period of hockey, with both teams pouring shots on the net. Philadelphia out shot the Predators 15-12 in end to end action. Both teams generated some quality chances, and both goaltenders came up with some solid saves.
It appeared that the Predators had taken a 1-0 lead as Gabriel Bourque was able to direct the puck from behind the net off Bryzgalov and into the goal. The goal was waved off after a review that deemed that Bourque had kicked the puck at Bryz for the deflection.
The Predators got on the board with just 57 seconds remaining in the period while on the power play. With Patric Hornqvist screening Bryzgalov in front, Marty Erat took a shot from the face off circle that hit the ice in front of Bryzgalov and skipped up over his shoulder to give the Predtors a 1-0 lead.
The second period saw the Flyers use their size to assert themselves. They out shot the Predators 13-6, but were forcing the puck deep in the Predators zone, cycling well, and creating some chances. One had to wonder whether the Predators defense could hold up under this pressure.
Want an indication of how the Predators responded? Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, one of the massive forwards on the Predators roster, broke down the wing with no one but the smallish Ryan Ellis between him and Pekka Rinne. Ellis timed a perfect hip check and flipped Simmonds head over heels, separating him from the puck and thwarting the scoring threat.
The Predators kept grinding away at the Flyers defense, and their effort paid off with their second goal. The Flyers appeared to have control of the puck in their zone, but Gabriel Bourque fought for the puck and stole it away. He found Sergei Kostitsyn and got the puck on his stick. Kostitsyn fired a wrist shot over the shoulder of Bryzgalov with Mike Fisher screening in front to give the Predators a 2-0 lead at 10:36 of the second period.
The Flyers sensational rookie, Sean Couturier, cut the lead to 2-1 at 12:18 of the second with a sweet wrist shot from just inside the face off circle that beat Rinne high glove side.
Going into the third period with a 2-1 lead, the Predators lead seemed tenuous at best, and everyone knew the Flyers would have a strong push.
Rather than wilt under the pressure of the Flyers, it was the Predators that struck first in the third period. Jordin Tootoo found Nick Spaling driving the slot and centered a pass to him. The puck actually bounced off the shaft of Spaling's stick and through the five hole of Bryzgalov to give the Predators a 3-1 lead at 4:30 of the third period.
The Flyers answered at 9:55 of the third as the Predators failed to clear the puck and Wayne Simmonds beat Ryan Ellis for control of the puck at the top of the crease. He was able to poke the puck past Rinne to cut the Predators lead to 3-2.
Rinne stepped up and made some big saves after this to keep the Flyers off the board. With time winding down and Bryzgalov on the bench for the extra attacker, Mike Fisher potted an empty net goal at 19:20 to seal the win.
The defensive effort by the Predators was very good tonight. Although they gave up 38 shots, most were not from quality scoring areas. The Flyers big line of Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, and Scott Hartnell were held off the board, and the play of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber was outstanding in this effort.
This game may not have taken on the importance of a game against a Western Conference opponent, but this was a humongous 2 points for the Predators. With this win, they sit just 4 points out of the lead in the Central Division and 5 points out of first place in the West. They also sit just 4 points out of 9th place in the West. The Western Conference is tightly bunched in the standings and is ultra competitive and it makes every point precious.
Make no mistake- this was a very big game.
The Predators have now won 13 of their last 17 games, essential for keeping pace with the other teams in the West that seem to keep winning as well. Nashville now has sole possession of 6th place in the West.
Tonight, this team battled against a very good opponent. Young players stepped up and veterans played like they should. It will be critical that they continue to do so in the unrelenting pressure cooker that is the Western Conference.
Keep playing this way, and you will have more humongous wins.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Sergei Kostitsyn
3. Wayne Simmonds