The Nashville Predators faced off with the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena in a pivotal contest that would either give the Predators possession of 4th in the West or the Wings some breathing room in their hold on that coveted 4th spot.
The Predators faced a daunting task in their attempt to win at the Joe, where Detroit was 30-5-2 going into this game.
Consider the jinx at the Joe broken as the Predators dominated the Wings en route to a 4-1 victory.
The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Wings welcomed back Jimmy Howard, who had missed the last 4 games with a groin injury.
The first period was scoreless, but both teams had some quality scoring chances. The Predators out shot the Wings 9-7 in the first, but the real story of this period was that the Predators did a great job on the forecheck and pressured the Wings in their zone. The Predators used their forecheck to stymie the speed of the Wings through the neutral zone and did not allow them to enter the offensive zone with speed.
That level of play would continue throughout the game, as the Predators controlled the neutral zone. In addition, the Predators did a good job in the defensive zone of disrupting the Wings in the offensive zone, intercepting passes and thwarting the offensive flow that the Wings tried to establish.
The second period continued just as the first had played out, with both teams probing and trying to establish offensive zone presence.
It was the Predators that would break through first.
Gabriel Bourque would take a pass from Jordin Tootoo in the slot and slip a wrist shot past Howard to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 13:05 of the second period. Bourque continues his solid play, as he goes to the tough areas and is strong on the puck, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a big goal.
The Predators tempted fate as they gave the Wings consecutive power plays. Nick Spaling was called for hooking at 14:04, and the Predators PK killed off the Wings power play.
Just 20 seconds later, the Predators were called for too many men on the ice, and once again, the PK unit came up big, killing off the Wings power play. The highlight of that kill was Rinne absolutely robbing Henrik Zetterberg with a glove save at the side of the net.
Just 23 seconds after that kill, the Predators put a dagger into the heart of the Red Wings.
With Alexander Radulov being mugged in front of the net- actually being tackled by Todd Bertuzzi- the puck squirted out of traffic onto the stick of Francis Buillon. Frankie buried the puck past Howard at 19:27 of the second period to give the Predators a 2-0 lead.
Detroit out shot the Predators 17-8 in the second period, but many of those shots were from the outside and were shots that Rinne easily handled.
The third period was one that everyone knew would have a push by the Wings. For the Predators, it was going to be important not to sit back and let the Wings take the play to them.
The Predators did anything but sit back, as they kept the pressure up on the Wings. Alexander Radulov took a very sweet pass from Andrei Kostitsyn, who moved up to the second line in the third period, and was alone in the slot. Radulov hammered the shot past Howard, who had no chance on the play, to give the Predators a 3-0 lead at 2:40 of the third period.
The Predators continued to limit the quality chances by the Wings through their forecheck and their play in the neutral zone. This was evidenced by the Predators holding the Wings to 8 shots in the third period, while the Predators had 10.
The Wings finally cracked the scoreboard at 16:57 of the third period, as Jiri Hudler took a pass from Henrik Zetterberg and found the open side of the net past an out of position Rinne.
The Predators iced the win with an empty net goal by Shea Weber at 19:20 of the third period.
For the Predators, this win allows them to take possession of 4th place in the West. With 4 games remaining, it is going to be imperative that the Predators take care of business. They have the advantage of 3 of those 4 games being in the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena.
This game was also a milestone game for Barry Trotz and David Poile. This was Head Coach Barry Trotz's 500th win, all with the Predators. Trotz becomes just the fifth coach to win 500 games with one team. General Manager David Poile becomes the first General Manager to have 500 wins with two different teams, the Washington Capitals and the Predators.
Congratulations to both of these gentlemen for this significant accomplishment.
Obviously this win feels good, but there is work left to do in the regular season, starting tomorrow night against Chicago.
Play like you did tonight, and home ice is yours for the taking.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Alexander Radulov
3. Francis Buillon