The Nashville Predators faced off against the Edmonton Oilers in a critical contest at the Bridgestone Arena. The Predators are fighting for a playoff spot, and their margin of error is razor thin. They have to win games and they have to take care of business against struggling teams like the Oilers.
It wasn't pretty at times, but the Predators captured a 3-2 win over a potentially explosive Oilers team that has given the Predators fits at times.
Sergei Kostitsyn finally broke out of his season long funk with a goal and an assist. Kevin Klein had a goal, and Chris Mueller had a highlight reel goal to account for the Predators scoring.
Pekka Rinne outdueled Devan Dubnyk for the win, his 12th of the season.
The Oilers opened the scoring on the power play as Patric Hornqvist was in the box for interference at 7:42 of the first. Just 11 seconds into the power play, Corey Potter took a shot from the point that was deflected by Taylor Hall to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead.
The Predators answered at 11:51 of the first period as Marty Erat worked hard on the boards in the Oilers zone and dug the puck out and got it to Mike Fisher. Fisher spotted Sergei Kostitsyn driving the net on the off wing and put the puck right on his tape. Kostitsyn lifted the puck over the shoulder of Dubnyk for his third goal of the season.
The Predators made it 2-1 at 4:31 of the second period as Marty Erat drove the puck into the Oilers zone. The puck was worked over to Kostitsyn, who drove to the left side of the net. Mike Fisher was creating havoc in front of the net, and Kostitsyn forced Dubnyk to move to front his drive. Kostitsyn found Kevin Klein pinching down from the blue line, slid him the puck, and Klein buried the puck into the open net.
The Predators stretched their lead to 3-1 at 11:33 of the second as Brandon Yip pushed the puck into the Oilers zone. He found Chris Mueller with the pass, and Mueller used his speed to avoid a hit from Mark Fistric. Mueller then beat Dubnyk over his shoulder for what would prove to be the game winning goal. Mueller's shot was a dandy, as he had a very small space in which to shoot the puck, and he was perfect on his shot.
The Oilers made things interesting in the third period as Shawn Horcoff took a shot that Rinne appeared to have smothered. Instead, the puck trickled through Rinne's pads and over the goal line to make it 3-2 at 7:03 of the third period.
The Predators were able to hold off the Oilers for the remainder of the period and had their third win in a row.
More importantly, they won a game they needed to win and should have won.
Good To See You
Finally! Sergei Kostitsyn got his offensive game back into gear with a goal and an assist. Kostitsyn hustled all night, made some good decisions with the puck, and was engaged throughout the game. These elements have been lacking for most of the season from Sergei, and the Predators need this kind of effort from him in their remaining games.
Patric Hornqvist returned to the line up after missing 8 games due to injury. Hornqvist was his usual crash and bang self, and the Predators need him to get his game going quickly and score those dirty goals from the hard areas. His production and grit have been missed. Badly.
Chris Mueller continues to play solid hockey, using his speed and hustle to create chances. His goal tonight was a jaw dropper as he deposited the puck into a very small opening against a big goalie that was perfectly positioned. It bodes well for the Predators if Mueller can bring some of the scoring touch he has shown at the AHL level.
Fisher Is Flying
Fisher's assist tonight gives him a point in his last seven games. The Predators obviously need his production, but Fisher has been leading by example as well. His hustle is off the chart; he has been physical; and he is reliable in all zones. Fisher's line with Erat and Kostitsyn has begun to click, and the Predators need them to keep bringing that effort.
The Predators are now 14-13-6 and have 34 points. They will be tied with San Jose in points for the 8th spot in the West, but San Jose has a game in hand. I still believe the cut line for the playoffs will be 56 points. If that is true, the Predators will need to win 12 of their last 15 games.
That is a very steep hill to climb.
But it can be done.
The Predators have started to get some players healthy with the return of Hal Gill and Patric Hornqvist. They have started to play Predator hockey again. They have a majority of their remaining games at home.
The task is difficult.
I think you are up to the challenge, boys.
My three stars:
1. Sergei Kostitsyn
2. Marty Erat
3. Chris Mueller