Friday, April 20, 2012

Predators Defeat Wings 2-1, Clinch the First Round Series 4-1

The Nashville Predators defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 at the Bridgestone Arena to clinch their first round series by a 4-1 margin.

Winning this series against the Wings was a big step in the maturation process of the Predators. Ever since the Preds came into the NHL, the Wings have been their measuring stick, the standard against which they measured their performance and their progress. Defeating  the Wings in a playoff series is important not only for the fact that the Predators advance to the second round of the playoffs, but important for the psychology of the team, proving that they are measuring up to one of the best teams in the NHL.

Once again, the Predators rode the strong goaltending of Pekka Rinne to the win. Rinne was outstanding, stopping 21 of 22 shots. For the Predators, the play of Rinne was key to winning this series. Rinne had to elevate his game, and he did just that, with a .944 save percentage in the five games.

Detroit was facing elimination and was a desperate team, and they opened the contest with that sense of desperation. They out shot the Predators 6-1 to open the contest, but the Predators responded and got their feet moving and ended the period out shooting the Wings 10-8.

One of those 10 shots found the back of the net. David Legwand battled on the forecheck and won a puck battle behind the net. He backhanded the puck into the slot to Alexander Radulov who fired a quick wrist shot over the shoulder of Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 16:10 of the first period.

The Predators had some great chances early in the second period, but could not get the puck past Howard. Craig Smith hit a post and Howard robbed Patric Hornqvist when it appeared that he had an open net. As it was, the Predators held a 1-0 lead and could not extend it.

That lead stood up until 13:45 of the second period, when Jiri Hudler took a rebound off the pads of Rinne and slammed home the puck to tie the game at 1.

Going into the third and in a tie game, the Predators had the upper hand in play. They were winning puck battles, limiting the speed of the Wings through the neutral zone, and keeping their offense in check. Yet tied at 1, this game was in the balance, and it had the feel of a game that would go to the team that could get the next goal.

That team would be the Predators, and the ext goal would come just 13 seconds into the third period. David Legwand took a pass from Gabriel Bourque and hammered a shot past Howard to give the Predators a 2-1 lead. Good to see Legwand get his game going after a couple of lackluster games, and Bourque continued to make an impact for the Predators, as he notched his 4th point in 5 games with the assist.

The Predators made that quick strike stand up for the remainder of the period. Unlike game 4, the Predators did not sit back in a defensive shell and continued to press the attack offensively. That effort led to the Wings getting only 8 shots on goal in the third period. Yes, the Predators had only 7 shots on goal, but their ability to control the neutral zone and cycle the puck in the offensive zone were critical to stopping the Wings from getting their potent offense on track.

The Predators held the Wings off the board in the third period, and for the first time in three attempts, and knocked them out of the playoffs.

Consider the Predators measuring up, no exceeding, the standard that the Wings had set.

Winning this game meant that the Predators did not have to return to Detroit. If they had to do so, I would expect this series to go to 7 games. As it is, the Predators now get a chance to rest and get ready for the second round.

Tonight the Predators played Predator hockey. They were aggressive on the forecheck, limited the Wings speed in the neutral zone, and rarely let them get their dangerous cycle going in the offensive zone.

It goes without saying that the Red Wings are a great team and a quality organization. Congratulations to them on a great season.

Defeating the Wings not only moves the Predators to the second round of the playoffs, but gives the team the confidence that they are making progress to being an elite team. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

Tonight, the Predators did just that.

Now it is time to get ready for the second round and more importantly, move past that round.

The challenge awaits.

Time to measure up.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. David Legwand

3. Alexander Radulov

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