Saturday, April 7, 2012

Predators Lock Up 4th Seed in the West, Bury the Avalanche 6-1

The Nashville Predators traveled to the Pepsi Center to take on the Colorado Avalanche in the last- and thankfully- anticlimactic- game of the regular season. Thanks to Detroit's shootout loss earlier in the day, the Predators entered the game knowing they had locked up the 4th seed in the Western Conference and home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

With that in mind, Head Coach Barry Trotz decided to rest some of his starters, giving the night off to Pekka Rinne, Mike Fisher, Marty Erat, Hal Gill, and Francis Bouillon.

Anders Lindback got the start in net, and the Avalanche went with J.S. Giguere.

Regardless of the fact they had clinched the 4th seed, the Predators still wanted to play a solid game and they knew the Avalanche, who had missed the playoffs, would want to give their home crowd something to cheer about in their last game of the season.

The Predators opened the scoring at 3:39 of the first period as Gabriel Bourque worked hard in the Avs zone on the boards and was able to control the puck in spite of the defensive pressure. He spun and found David Legwand in the slot, and Legwand's wrist shot beat Giguere to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

The Avs tied the game at 8:09 of the first period as they swarmed the Predators net on a 3 on 2 rush. Lindback made 2 stops but Matt Duchene buried the third attempt, lifting the puck over a sprawled Lindback and under the crossbar.

The Predators had a glorious scoring chance with a 2 on 1 rush by Craig Smith and Matt Halischuk, but Smith's pass to Halsichuk was tipped away at the last second. Halsichuk did not give up on the play, and retrieved the puck in the corner and got it to Smith, who ripped a slap shot off Giguere and into the net for his 14th goal of the season. The score came at 12:10, and it is good to see the Honey Badger contributing when he is getting ice time.

The Predators stretched their lead to 3-1 when Kevin Klein took a shot from the blue line that deflected off the stick of Patric Hornqvist and past Giguere with just 1.2 seconds remaining on the clock in the first period.This was Hornqvist's 27th goal of the season.

Solid start?


The Avs out shot the Predators 14-12 in the first period, and Lindback had some big saves to thwart some good scoring chances by Colorado.

The second period saw the Avs take it to the Predators. They dominated play and fired numerous shots on the Predators net. Lindback had to make some big saves to keep the Avs from tallying a score that would have put them back in the game. The Avs dominance was such that they out shot the Predators 16-3 through the first 16 minutes of the second.

The Predators opportunistically struck at 16:09 of the second as Craig Smith found Roman Josi pinching in from his defensive position and fed a great pass to him at the side of the net. Josi made no mistake, finding the back of the net on just the Predators 4th shot of the period.

With 14 seconds to go in the period, Craig Smith saved a goal by hooking Matt Duchene, who was looking at a wide  open net off a rebound given up by Lindback.

The second period ended with the Predators being out shot 17-9, and they would be on the penalty kill to begin the third. For the Predators, it was important to come out and play a solid 20 minutes of hockey and put this game in the books.

The Predators killed off the penalty to open the third period, and as the power play ended, Lindback kicked out a long rebound that sent Brandon Yip on a breakaway. Yip was stopped by Giguere, but the Predators kept control of the puck. Patric Hornqvist battled for the puck and got it back to Yip, who banked the puck off Giguere and into the net off the wrap around to make it 5-1 Predators at 1:57 of the third period.

How sweet this goal must have been for the Yipper.

Shortly thereafter, Lindback collided with both Jack Hillen and Ryan Ellis as well as Cody McLeod of the Avs and was injured on the play. Pekka Rinne had to come into the game as Lindback was taken back to the dressing room.

Matt Halischuk stole the puck and broke in on a 2 on 1 and rather that pass (!) picked the short side over the shoulder and buried the shot to give the Predators a 6-1 lead at 6:20 of the third period. For Halischuk, this was his 15th goal of the season.

 The remainder of the period was spent playing some wide open shinny as both teams went up and down the ice, but neither could find the back of the net, and the 6-1 score was a final.

The Predators were out shot by a wide margin, 45-29, but the count that mattered was the goals scored.

For the Predators, this was a good tune up for the playoffs. More importantly, the young guys that were inserted into the line up played with jump and determination, a good sign that they have a lot of fight in them for those coveted- and limited- roster spots with the playoffs upcoming.

The Predators finish the regular season with a 48-26-8 record, good for 104 points and cleanly in 4th place in the West. Pekka Rinne had more wins than any other goaltender in the NHL.

Those accolades are great.

Now the real season starts.

My three stars:

1. Craig Smith

2. Anders Lindback

3. Roman Josi

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