Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ducks Downed by the Predators 3-1

The Nashville Predators finished their west coast road swing with a visit to the Duck Pond, otherwise known as the Honda Center, to face another dangerous team in the Anaheim Ducks. The Predators lead the season series 3-0 and Anaheim would like for nothing better than to exact a measure of revenge against the Predators.

Anders Lindback got the start in net for the Predators, while the Ducks went with Jonas Hiller. For the Predators, it was going to be important to get off to a good start, give Lindback some help, and play a full 60 minutes of hockey.

With Bobby Ryan in the box for high sticking, the Predators looked to get their power play clicking. Instead, it was the Ducks that struck shorthanded as Ryan Getzlaf fed the puck to Devonte Smith-Pelly on a 2 on 1 and the Smith Pelly buried the puck to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead at 7:32 of the first period.

Once again, a slow start was the bane of the Predators as the did not get their first shot on goal until 10:45 had elapsed in the first period. Unacceptable and frustrating, the Predators are a team that recently has looked like they are just not ready to play when the puck drops.

The Predators finally got their legs going and started to generate some good scoring chances. Unfortunately, they could not get a puck past Hiller, but their response in the second half of the first period was heartening.

For the first period, the Ducks out shot the Predators 9-8 and led 1-0 due to the gaffe on the power play.

Just 33 seconds into the second period, Marty Erat drove the net and was shoved into Hiller and had no chance to avoid the contact. Erat was nevertheless called for goaltender interference, a very weak call. Fortunately for the Predators, they were able to kill the penalty.

Once again, the Ducks, aided by the power play opened the second period as they did the first period, with more jump and desire than the Predators. They had a decided territorial advantage and had the first 6 shots of the period to none for the Predators.

Anders Lindback made several huge saves, one on Jason Blake and one on Kyle Palmieri to keep the Preds at a one goal deficit in the second. Once again, Lindback was waiting for his teammates to give him some goal support.

The second period was scoreless thanks to the effort by Lindback. The Ducks out shot the Predators 13-8 in the second period. Once again, the second period was 20 minutes of frustration for the Predator faithful as the Predators lost puck battles and did not seem to have any desire to compete with the Ducks.

The Predators finally showed some jump and compete just 1:19 into the period as David Legwand found Patric Hornqvist streaking alone down the slot. Hornqvist gathered the puck in and roofed the shot over the shoulder of Hiller to tie the game at 1.

Now we would see if that goal and that effort energized the Predators.

At 10:27, the Predators answered that question, as Marty Erat hustled to take off an icing call and flipped the puck to Ryan Suter. Suter's shot could not be controlled by Hiller, and with the puck in the blue paint, Mike Fisher hacked at the puck and slid it under Hiller to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.

Just prior to that score, Lindback came up with a huge save on a partial breakaway to preserve the tie.

Now the Predators were playing with some jump and were starting to look like... well, the Predators. They were starting to win puck battles and control the puck in the zone and were firing shots on the Ducks net. This is how they have to play if they are going to win games, and it was the way they were playing now.

The Predators defense broke down and left Kyle Palmieri all alone in front of the net, and Lindback came up with a critical stop at the 5:50 mark of the third. Lindback had been spectacular tonight, making some amazing saves to keep the Predators in the game.

The Ducks pulled Hiller with 1:40 remaining in the game for the extra attacker, and the Ducks were swarming. The Ducks short circuited that effort as Bobby Ryan was called for hooking with 45 seconds left in the period.

David Legwand executed his patented scoring play- the empty net goal- with 16 seconds remaining to give the Predators a 3-1 lead and seal the win. The half empty Honda Center looked as if a bomb threat had been called in as it quickly started to empty out.

In the third period, the Predators out shot the Ducks 11-9, and for the game were out shot by the Ducks 31-27.

The Predators victory over the Ducks was not a thing of beauty, yet it was a most beautiful win. Completely outplayed for long stretches of the game, the Predators dug down and gutted out a much needed win. With this victory, the Predators swept the Ducks in the season series.

This two points ties them with Detroit at 92 points and moves them into fourth place in the Western Conference by virtue of one more ROW than the Wings.

The Predators manage to capture 5 of the possible 8 points on the west coast trip. Those 5 points are precious to the Predators as they are fighting for home ice advantage in the playoffs.

More importantly, this game has to be a confidence builder for the Predators. They reached down and got a win in a game where their compete level was not the best and where they struggled at times. The third period in particular showed this squad that they are difficult to defeat when they play Predator hockey.

There are 10 games left in the season and 20 vital points on the line. They are yours for the taking, boys.

If you play Predator hockey.

My three stars:

1. Anders Lindback

2. Mike Fisher

3. Patric Hornqvist

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