With the season winding down, desperation time sets in for some teams. The Nashville Predators faced just such a team at Jobing.com Arena in the form of the Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix is currently in 7th spot in the West with a tenuous 2 point lead over 4 teams that are chasing and battling for playoff positioning.
The Predators entered the contest firmly in 5th place in the West, but this was a very important game for the Predators as they trailed 4th place Detroit by 4 points and were looking to close the gap. This was the first game of an important western swing, and the Predators were looking to get the road trip kicked off with a good start.
Pekka Rinne started in net for the Predators, while the Coyotes had Mike Smith in goal.
The Predators were missing two defensemen for the contest, as Kevin Klein was missing his 4th straight game and Roman Josi was scratched due to an upper body injury.
The first period was a fast paced first period with both teams flying up and down the ice and creating some good scoring chances. Perhaps the best save of the first period was by Mike Fisher as he got a skate on a shot to bail out an out of position Pekka Rinne.
The Predators also caught a break as Raffi Torres hit a post with Rinne scrambling to cover a puck.
With the period winding down, the Predators entered the Coyote zone on a 3 on2 break. Sergei Kostitsyn dropped the puck to Marty Erat, who fired a quick wrist shot at Smith. Smith got most of the puck, but it trickled out from under his arm, off his skate, and into the net to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 19:32 of the first period. For Erat, this was his 17th goal and 50th point of the season.
The period ended with the Predators in the lead and both teams registering 8 shots on goal.
In the second period, it was going to be important for the Predators to tighten up their defensive zone coverage, as the Coyotes got some quality chances due to soft defense. You knew that the Coyotes would come out just as hard in the second period as they had in the first.
Come out hard the Coyotes did, as they tied the game just 49 seconds into the second period off a shot from the blue line that was re-directed by Daymond Langkow to tie the game at 1. Poor puck management cost the Predators this goal as they turned it over in their zone and as a result it wound up in the back of their net.
The game started to look like a game of shinny as the second period wore on as both teams were flying up and down the ice. Rinne made a huge stop on Keith Yandle on a breakaway. The puck reversed the other way as the Predators had a 2 on 1. Sergei Kostitsyn took a shot that was stopped by Smith, but Kostitsyn got the rebound and fed it to Mike Fisher, who chipped it in at 11:04 to make it 2-1 Predators.
The Coyotes tied the game at 2 at 14:23 of the second as Keith Yandle
was trailing a 3 on 3 rush. Yandle faked and fired a shot through
traffic that beat Rinne to the far post.
In 4 on 4 play with each team with a man in the box, the Predators took a 3-2 lead as Ryan Ellis fed Marty Erat who slipped the puck to a pinching Francis Buillon, who gathered in the rebound of his shot and knocked the puck past Smith at 18:46 of the second. A timely first goal of the season from Frankie. On the play, Mike Fisher drew the defense to him at the right side of the net, leaving Buillon alone to knock home the rebound of his shot.
The second period of wide open hockey ended with the Predators up 3-2. The Predators out shot the Coyotes 13-10 in the period.
In the final 20 minutes, it was going to be critical for the Predators to lock down their defensive zone and continue to keep pressure on the Coyotes in the offensive zone.
The Predators extended their lead to 4-2 at 2:36 of the third period as Paul Gaustad found Craig Smith streaking through the neutral zone and sent him in on a breakaway with a perfect pass. Smith faked the forehand and deked Smith to the ice and roofed a beautiful backhand into the net. Great to see Smith make his way back into the line up, and this has to be a great confidence booster for the Honey Badger.
The Coyotes cut the lead to 1 at 7:11 of the third as Oliver Ekman-Larsson fired a puck through traffic from the blue line that got the post and caromed into the net to make it 4-3.
The Predators faced intense pressure from the Coyotes, and it paid off for them as Raffi Torres got the goal in a scramble in the blue paint at 15:01 of the third. The Predators had been spending too much time in their zone and were exhibiting poor puck management, and it came back to bite them as the Coyotes were swarming the Predators in their defensive zone.
The inability to properly manage the puck and the unrelenting pressure from the Coyotes caused the Predators to frustratingly blow a 2 goal third period lead. So off to overtime we went.
The overtime saw both teams create some good scoring chances but neither was able to capitalize on their opportunities. Once again, the overtime was like most of the game, with both teams playing wide open hockey.
So it was off to the shootout.
Phoenix shot first, with Ray Whitney the first shooter, and Rinne stopped his chance with his stick.
Andrei Kostitsyn was the Predators first shooter and he beat Smith five hole.
Radim Vrbata stopped Vrbata's backhand attempt.
Marty Erat was stopped by the glove of Smith.
Mikkel Boedker was stoned by Rinne and the Predators had escaped with a a 5-4 shootout win.
And escape they did.
The Predators showed jump and good play making throughout the course of the game, but their inability to manage the puck at times nearly cost them this contest. This is an area in which the Predators are going to have to improve.
With the win, the Predators now have 89 points and sit 2 points out of 4th place in the Western Conference. Each point is precious, and kudos to the team for getting the second point tonight.
A good start to the west coast swing. Time to build on this and pile up the points.
My three stars:
1. Daymond Langkow
2. Marty Erat