The Nashville Predators hoped to pick up right where they left off before the All Star break, where they were the hottest team in the NHL. They would begin this quest at the XCel Energy Center against the Minnesota Wild.
The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Wild went with Josh Harding.
Dany Heatley got loose in the low slot and buried the puck past Rinne to give the Wild a 1-0 lead at 8:04 in the first period. The defensive coverage broke down completely on this goal as Heatley was completely left left alone and Rinne had no chance on the snap shot.
Craig Smith drew a hooking call on a nice drive to the net, but the Predators could only muster one shot on goal with the man advantage.
The Predators returned the favor to the Wild as Shea Weber was called for holding. The Wild made the Predators pay for their transgression as once again Dany Heatley got open right in front of the net and once again beat Rinne. The Predators defensive coverage down low was atrocious once again, and it burnt them at 12:36 of the first period.
The Predators were out shot 11-10 in the first period, but and created a few scoring chances, but the Wild looked to be more ready to play and definitely looked to be the more desperate team.
The Predators were going to have to ramp up the intensity in the second period and were going to have to tighten up their defensive coverage.
Well, so much for tightening up the defensive coverage. Cal Clutterbuck drove into the zone and all the way to the net where his backhand eluded Rinne to make it 3-0 at 1: 29 of the second period. The Predators have shown their ability to come back in games, but spotting the Wild a 3-0 lead was digging an enormous hole.
The Predators finally got on the board at 9:33 of the second period as Kevin Klein took a shot from the blue line with Matt Halischuk in front screening. Halischuk re-directed the shot past Harding to get the Predators on the board. For Halischuk, this was his 12th goal of the season, and he continues to impress with his hard work.
At the end of two periods, the Predators trailed 3-1, and failed to generate much of a sustained attack. The Wild were forechecking aggressively and disrupting the Predators breakouts in the neutral zone. The Wild out shot the Predators 6-5 in the second, and the shot totals were reflective of a period of hockey that had no flow to it.
The Predators were going to have to support the puck better and create offense in the third period if they were going to have an opportunity to win this game. It was going to be important for the Predators to establish offensive zone time and create some chances in the third period.
Once again the Predators gave up an early goal t begin the period as Kyle Brodziak tapped in a puck as Nick Johnson was allowed to walk out of the corner and to the front of the net. Johnson's shot was stopped by Rinne, but Brodziak was free to tap in the puck at just 16 seconds into the period.
The Predators showed that they were definitely not ready to play in this game, as the mental aspect of the their game was totally absent in this contest. The Wild had scored all their goals off defensive lapses by the Predators, which was indicative of the team not being mentally ready for this contest.
The Predators made it 4-2 as Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk were banging away at the puck as Harding went down to block the shot. The play went under review, but the puck was spied by the officials across the goal line for Yip's first goal as a Predator at 9:22 of the third period. More importantly, the Predators kept fighting and were rewarded for their efforts.
Pekka Rinne made a huge save on Matt Cullen at 15:20 of the third as the Wild had a 2 on 1. Rinne once again bailed out the defense to keep the game within reach for the Predators, but the clock was melting away and it was going to be critical that the Predators get another goal quickly.
The Predators pulled to within one goal as Patric Hornqvist kept banging away at a loose puck in the crease and was able to poke the puck past Harding at 15:39. Hard work paid off for the Predators.
Improbable comeback on the way?
A resounding YES!
Just 21 seconds later, Mike Fisher pounded a puck past Harding to tie the game at 4. Unbelievably, the Predators had fought their way back into this game.
With 20.8 seconds to go, the Predators kept battling for control of the puck in the Wild zone. Mike Fisher got control of the puck along the boards by the face off circle and just threw the puck at the net. Somehow the puck eluded Harding and found the back of the net to give the Predators an unbelievable 5-4 lead.
The horn sounded and as unbelievable as it sounds, the Predators had an amazing come from behind win. A victory where they scored 4 goals in the third period, a period where they were down 4-1 early and seemed dead in the water.
That is character.
There are two take aways from this game: first, the Predators have to come ready to play. The success prior to the All Star game is history. Just stepping on the ice is not enough. Teams are desperate and they need the wins, and they are going to fight and scrap for every bit of ice and every loose puck. Tonight, the Predators were nearly bitten in the posterior because they did not come ready to play.
The second thing to take away from this game is that the game is never over until the final horn sounds. Keep fighting, keep grinding, keep playing, and good things happen. If this team ever forgets this fact, just pull the tape out and watch it again.
Let this game be a learning experience. Get ready boys, because the games down the stretch are going to be a war.
My three stars:
1. Mike Fisher
2. Matt Halischuk
3. Dany Heatley
Honorable mention: Patric Hornqvist Brandon Yip