The Leafs are a talented team, which is challenge enough, but the Predators would face a real nemesis is Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier, who has a 8-1 lifetime record against them.
Marek Mazanec, who had won his last two outings against Chicago and Detroit, was in net for the Predators.
The game opened with the Leafs skating hard and attacking the net. Their jump paid off at 5:48 of the first period as Peter Holland scored from the left face off circle on a sharp angle shot to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead.
Mazanec was called upon to make some quality saves to keep the Leafs off the board as they were shooting the puck and driving the net consistently in the period.
The Predators responded with some offensive flurries of their own but were unable to get a puck past Bernier.
The Leafs out shot the Predators 11-9 in the first period.
The Predators got a 4 minute power play early in the second period as David Legwand was cut with a
high stick by Mason Raymond. The Predators made the Leafs pay for this transgression as Seth Jones shot a puck from the blue line that knuckle balled and eluded Bernier to tie the game at 1 at 2:01.
The Predators took a 2-1 lead as Matt Cullen drove the slot and fanned on his attempt. he stayed with the puck and fired a shot that beat Bernier five hole at 11:14 of the second period. By fanning on his first attempt, Cullen got Bernier to open up the five hole for the score.
Nice to see the Predators get a little puck luck.
Craig Smith made it 3-1 on the power play. With James van Riemsdyk in the box for boarding, Smith dug the puck out of the corner in the offensive zone and then drove the front of the net. Colin Wilson slid the puck to Smith at the top of the crease, and Smith, showing great hands, was able to control the puck and slid it through Bernier's pads at 16:25.
In the second period, the Predators executed their breakouts very well, skated hard, and got shots on net with traffic. That effort yielded three goals, and this was the kind of hockey that the Predators have been playing to get back on a winning track.
They were going to have to continue that effort in the third period.
Shots were 13-7 in favor of the Predators in the second period.
The Predators made it 4-1 as Craig Smith tallied his second goal of the night. Matt Cullen battled for the puck and slipped it back to Smith just outside the icing line. Smith threw a rising shot from a bad angle at Bernier that caught his shoulder and went over his back into the net at 4:32 of the third period. This was Cullen's third assist of the night to go along with his goal. For Smith, it was his first multi-goal game of the season and he now has 6 goals.
The Predators were playing Predator hockey in the third period. They were winning puck battles, beating the Leafs to loose pucks, and their aggressive forecheck was forcing turnovers in the Leafs zone. The Predators were taking the attack to the Leafs and keeping them off balance and limiting their potent offense.
The Leafs got a gift from the Predators as a shot by Nazem Kadri was going wide of the net but hit Victor Bartley and deflected past Mazanec to make it 4-2 at 15:28.
The Leafs pulled Bernier with 2:30 to go for the extra attacker, and the final minutes were frantic. The Predators missed the open net twice, and the Leafs were in full attack mode trying to cut the deficit to one.
The Predators were able to withstand the pressure from the Leafs and captured their third win in a row with a solid 60 minute game.
- Craig Smith has great offensive skills, but his first goal was created by going to the hard area in front of the net. Smith has shown a willingness to battle for the puck and go to tough areas, and if he can begin to score consistently, this will boost his confidence and certainly benefit the Predators.
- Matt Cullen has been playing some solid hockey. His chemistry with Smith is exceptional, and he is smart with the puck. he has great vision and distributes the puck well, and Smith has shown the ability- albeit somewhat inconsistently- to finish.
- The Predators responded to the first period deficit very well. They battled and competed very well in the second and third periods and won most of the puck battles. This response is heartening, and the team needs to consistently play this way.
- Mazanec gave up a bad goal on the Leafs first goal, but he made some good saves during the course of the game. He has looked more confident with each start and his fundamentals look good.
- Viktor Stalberg didn't get on the scoresheet, but he had a solid game. His backchecking was exceptional, thwarting some rushes by the Leafs, and he showed his speed by blowing past the Leafs defense to set up two quality scoring chances. If he can begin to consistently find the back of the net, he can be the explosive offensive player the Predators need.
- The Predators saw two familiar faces wearing leafs sweaters. Cody Franson was a Predators draft choice as a defenseman that played 20:37 tonight for the Leafs. Jerred Smithson is a recent acquisition for the Leafs that played 9:14. Smithson played over 400 games for the Predators.
- Hopefully this outing for the Predators will dispel the aura of invincibility that Bernier has held over the team. The Predators peppered Bernier with 28 shots and forced him to work for a lot of his saves, something they have failed to do when they have faced him previously.
My three stars:
1. Matt Cullen
2. Craig Smith
3. Marek Mazanec