The Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets met at Nationwide Arena in the final game of the season. For one team, the game meant nothing- finish and book your tee time. For the other team, the outcome of the game held playoff implications- win and have the opportunity to get in the playoffs.
Unlike years past, it was the Predators that would be booking tee times and the Blue Jackets were fighting to get into the playoffs.
For the Predators, it was one final game to audition some of the younger players that had populated the line up in the latter part of the season. On final opportunity to get a win and assuage some of the bad emotions that have built in this difficult season.
The Predators were going to have match the emotion and intensity that the Jackets would be playing with if they were going to win this game.
Chris Mason was in net for the Predators, while the Jackets had Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes.
A spirited first period ended with neither team scoring, but each generated some good chances. Both netminders came up with some good stops, especially Bobrovsky as the Predators had some good flurries in front of the net. The Predators did a good job of matching the intensity of the Jackets in the opening frame.
The Predators opened the scoring at 8:29 of the second period as Joonas Rask kept the puck in at the blue line in the Jackets zone. he got the puck to David Legwand, who dropped the puck to Shea Weber. Weber fired a wrist shot from the face off circle that beat Bobrovsky over his shoulder to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.
Chris Mason came up with a huge save on Brandon Dubinsky, who broke in alone on the Predators net. Mason stopped Dubinsky with his glove with a brilliant save.
The period ended with the Predators leading 1-0. The jackets had out shot the Predators 22-15 through the first 40 minutes.
Everyone knew that the Jackets would have a push fueled by desperation in the third period, and that is exactly what happened. The Jackets opened the third out shooting the Predators 11-0 in the first 7 minutes of the period, and Mason made some good saves to keep the Jackets off the board, including a stretch of two minutes of a Columbus power play.
With Chris Mueller in the box and the Jackets on their second power play of the game, they finally broke through as Brandon Dubinsky got loose in the slot and beat mason off a backhand to tie the game at 1 at 10:09 of the third period.
As solidly as the Predators had played in the first 40 minutes, they had disappeared in the third period. Through 12:40 of the period, the Predators had been out shot 15-1 and showed no offensive instinct whatsoever. The Predators were letting the Jackets dictate and dominate play, and if they were going to have an opportunity to win this game, they would have to re-discover their offensive game and establish some zone presence.
Jack Johnson gave the jackets a 2-1 lead as he circled behind the net and threw the puck back to the front. The puck hit the back of Mason's pads and floated into the blue paint. Shea Weber inadvertently hit the puck with his stick and knocked it into the net for an unfortunate goal.
The Blue Jackets would add an empty net goal by Cam Atkisson for the final margin of 3-1.
Final Frame Flop
The Predators had played a solid 40 minutes of hockey only to completely collapse in the final frame. The Jackets totally dominated the Predators, out shooting them 26-5. The Jackets were going to come out with intensity and desperation in the final 20 minutes, and the Predators did not come close to matching their effort. This is disappointing even with the young line up. The veterans had to step up and lead and in the process calm down the youngsters. They failed miserably.
Painful Learning Experience
Injuries forced a number of young players into the line up, and they had to play some critical minutes during the latter stages of the season. They weren't often rewarded and the learning experience was not pleasant. The positive aspect of this painful learning experience is just that- experience. They have seen what it takes to compete and win at the highest level. They have also felt what it is like to be in the losing locker room. Those experiences will serve them and the team well in the coming seasons.
Forsberg Has The Potential...
to be really good. he is composed and smooth with the puck. He possesses great hockey sense. With physical and mental maturity that will come, he has the potential to be the elite scorer the Predators sorely lack. It is just that- potential. We will have to watch his development closely.
Mason Deserved Better
Chris Mason played his best game of the year, making some great saves, including on two breakaways. He got absolutely no support in the third period, and the Predators wasted a solid effort.
Mercifully, this miserable season has come to an end. Disappointing would be an understatement, but there are lessons that can be learned.
Fail to learn those lessons and next year could be just as ugly.
My three stars:
1. Sergei Bobrovsky
2. Chris Mason
3. Jack Johnson