The Nashville Predators experienced a family reunion of sorts as they faced several old teammates now with the Florida Panthers in a contest at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. Across the way, the Predators would see former line mates Marcel Goc, Mike Santorelli, and recently traded Jerred Smithson, as well as Scottie Upshall, who is on injured reserve.
Family or not, the Predators were attempting to put a Panther's pelt on their wall.
Pekka Rinne was in net for the Predators while the Panthers went with Scott Clemmensen.
For the Predators, this was an opportunity to pick up two points against an Eastern Conference opponent and close the gap with St. Louis and Detroit, who sit just above them in the standings. This was going to be no easy task, as the Panthers were desperate for points as well, clinging to a tenuous two point lead over Winnipeg in the Southeast Division.
The Predators faced a strong pus from the Panthers early in the game. Through the first 10 minutes, the Panthers had out shot the Predators 9-2. Rinne made several big saves to keep the Panthers off the board.
The Predators broke through at 11:35 of the first as Andrei Kostitsyn got the puck and some open space and with fired a puck from the face off circle to the far side post that beat Clemmensen to give the Predators a 1-0 lead on only their third shot of the game.
Shortly after the score, Shea Weber got smoked in the corner by Sean Bergenheim and appeared to be injured. he skated to the bench and his spot was taken by Jack Hillen. After missing a shift, Weber returned for the Predators to the great relief of Predator fans everywhere.
The first period ended with the Predators holding a 1-0 lead but being out shot 15-6. Hopefully the Predators shook off the rust of having a few days off and would come out with more offensive push in the second period.
The Predators opened the second period with much better jump. Martin Erat fought for and got control of the puck behind the Panthers net and found Mike Fisher streaking down the slot. The pass from Erat landed right on the tape of Fisher and his one time chip beat Clemmensen to give the Predators a 2-0 lead just 28 seconds into the period.
The Panthers cut the lead to 2-1 on a nice give and go between Marcel Goc and Wojtek Wolski at 7:29 of the second. Wolski took a pass and had a wide open net into which to shoot the puck as Rinne had to respect Goc who was breaking in on the left side.
The period ended with the Predators holding a 2-1 lead, and the shot on goal was certainly more respectable, favoring the Panthers by a 9-8 margin. The Predators did a better job of moving their feet and controlling the puck in their offensive zone.
The key to the third period was going to be more of the same for the Predators.
The Predators got a bit loose with their defensive coverage and gave up a 2 on 1 and a partial breakaway, but Rinne made some great saves to keep the Panthers from getting the equalizer.
The Predators extended their lead to 3-1 at 7:02 of the period as Andrei Kostitsyn sent David Legwand in on a breakaway. Legwand made a nice fake and got Clemmensen to open the five hole, and Legwand deftly slid the puck through for his 15th goal of the year.
The Predators had some good scoring chances on a breakaway by Craig Fisher and a 2 on 1 with Sergei Kostitsyn and Mike Fisher, but Clemmensen was able to make some good saves to keep the score 3-1.
The Panthers pulled Clemmensen with 1:53 to go in the game for the extra attacker. The Predators did a good job of keeping the Panthers bottled up in their zone and didn't allow them to gain easy entry into the offensive zone. Rinne made a huge save on Stephen Weiss to keep the score 3-1 with 38 seconds remaining in the contest.
The Predators ran out the remainder of the clock and skated away with a 3-1 victory and more importantly, two more precious points.
The Predators survived the first period and played a solid 40 minutes. They caught a few breaks as the Panthers misfired on some good scoring chances, and Rinne was once again stellar in net, making 39 saves. for the game, the Panthers out shot the Predators 40-23, which is a disturbing margin.
Rinne won his 36th game, best in the NHL.
It was good to see solid contributions from the newcomers, as Paul Gaustad was solid in the face off circle, and he and Hal Gill had an assist on Andrei Kostitsyn's goal.
This was a solid win for the Predators. They will jump back into Western Conference play next week with three home games against opponents from inside their conference. Sitting solidly in fifth place with 83 points, the Predators look to make a move up the standings with these critical games.
And put another pelt on their wall.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Mike Fisher
3. Andrei Kostitsyn