"To be the man, you have to beat the man"
That quote by wrestling superstar Ric Flair sums up the Predators game with the Detroit Red Wings in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena. The man- Detroit- was coming to town, a team the Predators have been chasing since their inception and were once again chasing this season. Detroit was 6 points in front of the Predators, and the Preds needed this game if they were going to close the gap and potentially pass the Wings in the standings.
Never mind that the man was coming into this game wounded, with numerous starters out of the line up. Never mind that the Wings played last night. This was Detroit, a still dangerous and good team, and the Predators had to have this win if they were going to move up in the standings.
Pekka Rinne was in net for the Predators, while the Wings went with Joey MacDonald.
The Predators did a good job of moving the puck, especially through the neutral zone to get set up in the offensive zone. Detroit did the same, and both teams tested the others defense, neither able to get a puck past the netminders.
That changed at 7:30 of the first period as David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist broke in 2 on 1. Legwand carried the puck in and drew the defense to him before slipping a pass to Hornqvist. Hornqvist took the pass on his tape and buried a quick wrister past MacDonald to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.
Predator fans were still celebrating Hornqvist's team leading 21st goal when the Wings tied the game just 13 seconds later. Drew Miller came out from behind the Predators goal line with the puck and slipped a shot between Rinne and the post to tie the game at 1.
After some more back and forth play, the Predators went to the man advantage at 10:22 of the first period as Doug Janik was called for high sticking Colin Wilson. The Predators made the Wings pay as Andrei Kostitsyn took a pass from his brother Sergei while camped at the top of the blue paint. Ak46 spun with the puck and whipped a backhand past MacDonald to give the Predators a 2-1 lead at 11:59 of the first period.
The second period was scoreless, with both teams generating some chances but neither able to get one in the net as both Rinne and MacDonald were solid in their play.
Going into the third period, the Predators were looking to extend their lead and gain some breathing room. That would come at 4:34 of the third as Andrei Kostitsyn would once again strike on the power play off an assist from his brother Sergei. AK46 took a pass from SK74 at the side of the net and was able to lift the puck past MacDonald to give the Predators a 3-1 lead.
This was Detroit- the man- and everyone knew they would have a strong push in the the remaining time in the third period. And push the Wings did. They out shot the Predators 18-6 in the period, and Pekka Rinne was called upon to make some good saves to keep the lead at 2.
The Wings would cut the lead to 1 at 14:35 of the third as Justin Abdelkader took a shot from the low slot that Rinne was able to stop. Abdelkader was able to get his stick on the rebound and while being knocked to the ice by Ryan Suter was able to lift the puck over Rinne to make it 3-2.
The Wiings continued to push, but could not get another puck past Rinne. With MacDonald pulled for the extra attacker, the Predators continued to force the Wings to the outside and Rinne made some big saves. The Wings got some help with 10 seconds remaining in the game as Shea Weber was called for roughing, but the Predators kept the Wings from getting a shot on net to seal the win.
Full marks go to the Predators penalty killers, who killed off 4 Detroit power plays, including 10 seconds of a 5 on 3 in the second period on back to back penalties. In the second of those kills, the Predators did not allow the potent Detroit power play a shot on goal.
The Predators power play was the difference in this game. The PP unit was 2 of 4, and this unit had some special chemistry when the Kostitsyn's were on the ice. The acquisition of Andrei Kostitsyn has paid dividends for the Predators as he has 6 points in 5 games since being acquired at the trade deadline. He uses his big frame well down low and has good hands, and those attributes were on display tonight.
David Legwand played a solid game and had 3 assists tonight. Pekka Rinne was once again stellar in net, stopping 35 of 37 shots and making some good saves to keep the Wings off the board. Rinne continues to lead the NHL in wins, picking up his 38th win tonight.
This was a solid win for the Predators, one they needed if they were going to catch the Wings, and more importantly, to keep pace with other teams in the Western Conference. They stepped up and played the type of game they are capable of playing.
And for tonight, they were the man.
My three stars:
1. Andrei Kostitsyn
2. David Legwand
3. Sergei Kostitsyn