The Nashville Predators faced a desperate Colorado Avalanche team that was fighting for a playoff spot at the Bridgestone Arena. While the Predators may not have felt the same sense of desperation, being firmly ensconced in the 5th spot in the Western Conference, it was important for the the Predators to get back to their "A" game and play with their own sense of desperation and purpose.
Just 1:14 into the game, the Avs put their desperation and drive on display as Jamie McGinn potted a goal from the low slot as the Predators had a mix up in defensive coverage. Roman Josi pursued the puck into the corner and was late getting back into position, leaving McGinn alone in the low slot where he beat Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne with a quick wrist shot.
Not exactly the start the Predators wanted or needed. Giving early momentum to a hungry hockey team is does not bode well.
The Predators seized the momentum back just 1:40 later as Mike Fisher beat Semyon Varlamov for his 20th goal of the year to tie the game at 1.
The Predators would take a 2-1 lead at 6:58 of the first as former Av Brandon Yip re-directed a Josi shot from the blue line past Varlamov. Yip was screening in front at the top of the blue paint and the shot hit his leg and changed direction past Varlamov.
In the second period, the Predators did a great job of establishing zone possession and controlling the puck, but could not get one past Varlamov, who made several acrobatic saves. The Predators held the Avs without a shot for over 10 minutes in the period, but could not get a puck past Varlamov.
The Avs did get several good scoring chances in the period, as Rinne made two good saves, each time leaving the puck in the paint. Once, Ryan Suter swept the puck away from former Predator Shane O'Brien, and Shea Weber played the puck to the corner past an on-rushing Avalanche forward.
With just a one goal lead and the period winding down, this game had all the hallmarks of a nail-biter going into the third period. That would change at 19:28 of the second as Sergei Kostitsyn gave the Predators some breathing room with a wicked wrist shot that beat Varlamov over his shoulder to give the Predators a 3-1 lead.
That two goal lead was important for the Predators as the Avalanche once again had the deficit down to 1 goal as Paul Stastny got loose in the low slot and beat a screened Rinne at 4:58 of the third period.
Yes, it was time to bite those nails once again.
The Predators caught a break in the third as Cody McLeod sent in a shot from the blue line through traffic that hit the crossbar and bounced down behind Rinne, who was able to cover the puck.
The Predators responded to the Avs pressure and were able to hold off their offensive push in the remainder of the third period. The Avs pulled Varlamov for the extra attacker with 1:27 remaining in the game. Paul Gaustad found Marty Erat coming through the neutral zone, and Erat buried the empty net goal at 19:16 of the third to seal a 4-2 win for the Predators.
For the game, the Predators out shot the Avs 31-17.
The Predators have 85 points, 6 ahead of 6rh place Chicago. They trail 4th place Detroit by 4 points with the Wings coming to town on Saturday.
This was a solid, workman-like effort from the Predators. 10 players had a point tonight, and that balance is going to be critical for the Predators in their remaining regular season games and especially in the playoffs.
The quick response of the Predators after the Avs early score was a display of character. The Predators broke down in defensive coverage and it cost them a goal. Getting a quick response was essential in positioning themselves to take control of the game. Colorado is a team that desperately needs points, and they are playing with a sense of urgency. The Predators matched that urgency that Colorado brought to the game and took control of the contest in the second period.
That is character.
And that is what is going to be required in their remaining games.
My three stars:
1. Sergei Kostitsyn
2. Mike Fisher
3. Paul Stastny