Saturday, March 28, 2015

Predators Clinch Playoff Spot With 4-3 Win Over the Capitals, and Scenes From the Road

The Nashville Predators were looking to continue their winning ways going into their game with the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.

The task was going to be a bit more difficult as Shea Weber was out of the line up and called day to day with the dreaded "lower body injury".

The Predators proved they were up to the task, scoring 3 first period goals on the way to a 4-3 victory.

Moments after killing off a 55 second 5 on 3 advantage for the Caps, Mattias Ekholm, who was one of the Preds in the box, took a puck that was muffed by Curtis Glencross at the Capitals blue line and beat Braden Holtby with a sweet backhand shot to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

Mike Fisher made it 2-0 with a wrist shot through traffic.

The Capitals former first round pick, Filip Forsberg drilled a wrist shot past Holtby for a 3-0 first period lead and that ended the afternoon for Holtby. He was lifted for Justin Peters after giving up 3 goals on 13 shots.

The Caps scored just 19 seconds into the second period as the Predators got scrambly in their end and Troy Brouwer lifted a puck over a fallen Pekka Rinne.

Brouwer would score a short handed goal as Forsberg made a blind drop pass in the neutral zone that Brower picked off and beat Rinne low to the stick side.

Mike Ribeiro gave the Predators a 4-2 lead after Forsberg won a battle on the wall and passed to Ribeiro in the low slot. He redirected it past Peters to give the Predators some breathing room.

That goal was the game winner because the Caps stormed out and scored just 20 seconds into the third period to make it 4-3. Mike Green scored from the blue line through traffic to cut the lead to 1 and increase exponentially the pucker factor of every Preds fan.

Rinne and the defense were able to shut the door on the Caps to secure the win and a playoff spot. The Predators have now won 4 straight games, including 3 over Eastern Conference playoff contenders (Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Washington).

Some observations:

  • With Weber out of the line up, the defensive pairings were: roman Josi and Seth Jones; Mattias Ekholm and Cody Franson; and Anton Volchenkov and Ryan Ellis. The blueliners were very good today, and I have to give kudos to Volchenkov and Ellis in particular. They got caught several times with Ovechkin's line on the ice and handled themselves very well. And what can you say about Roman Josi? He handled some tough minutes and continues to impress with his poise, solid play, and ability to move the puck.
  • I also really like the play of Mattias Ekholm. He is playing with confidence and has shown some offensive flair. His goal was a beauty, completely fooling Holtby with a quick backhand.
  • I saw Weber in the hotel before the game and spoke with him. He did not appear to be in pain and was moving well. Hopefully he returns to the line up quickly.
  • Filip Forsberg picked up a goal and 2 assists (thank you former Caps GM George McPhee!). But the play that really stood out to me was his work on the wall the win the puck and get it to Ribeiro for the game winning goal. One of the underrated aspects of his game is the strength that he has and his ability to use that strength to win puck battles. That goal was a direct result of his strong effort on the boards.
  • Pekka Rinne was once again solid in net. He stopped 23 of 26 shots and picked up his 41st win of the season. Rinne looks confident and smooth in the net, and there is no doubt the team feeds on that condidence that he brings.
  • The Predators held Alex Ovechkin without a goal. He had 2 goals in their contest against the Predators in Nashville. Ovi has now gone 7 straight games without a goal.
  • The Caps had 45 hits to the Predators 17. That is an indication of how the Predators possessed the puck and forced the Caps to chase.
  • Once again, the penalty kill was excellent, killing off all 5 of the Capitals power plays, including 55 seconds of a 5 on 3. The Caps have a potent offense and power play and the Predators did a good job of foiling their entries into the zone and disrupting their offensive flow.
  • Likewise, the Caps did the same thing to the Predators power play. The Predators even managed to give up a short handed goal off a bone headed drop pass to no one by Forsberg. This unit has got to start performing at a higher level quickly. Please!
This was a very big win by the team, not only for clinching a playoff spot but for meeting the challenge of playing a quality playoff contender and taking care of business in a hostile environment.

Now they have to keep it rolling. Going into the playoffs on a roll is certainly preferable to limping into the postseason.

My three stars:

1. Filip Forsberg

2. Troy Brouwer

3. Mike Ribeiro

Here are some scenes from DC:

The Verizon Center is right in the middle of downtown. The 20 year old barn is a nice facility, but inside is starting to show its age a bit. While Verizon has the naming rights on the facility, notice the big T-Mobil LED ad on the corner of the building.

A view of the arena before the game.

The ladies just can't resist sharp dressed men wearing gold.

My hockey pal and traveling companion Mark Blake on the right and Pete Weber. We had an opportunity to tour the historic National Press Club and have dinner there on Friday night. The history in that facility and some of the exhibits there were amazing.

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