Thursday, January 29, 2009

Predators on a Mission?

The Nashville Predators came back from the All-Star break with the look of a team on a mission for the postseason. Further evidence of whether the Preds are a pretender or contender will be gathered Friday night when they take on the Northwest division leading Calgary Flames at 8:00 Central at the Saddledome.

In late night action Wednesday, the Predators took advantage of a “perfect storm” situation against the Vancouver Canucks to win 5-3. Coming into the game, the Preds had lost four straight and were on life support for a chance at a playoff position. The Canucks had lost seven straight at home and only had one win in their last ten so between the two struggling teams something had to give.

The Predators jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the first period while out shooting Vancouver 12-4. As we have seen many times recently, the Preds came out flat in the second period after a strong opening stanza. Vancouver scored three quick goals in a five and one half minute span, two of which were on Predator turnovers.

The Predators showed remarkable resiliency and continued to play strong defense and kept firing the puck in spite of the 3-1 deficit, out shooting the Canucks 19-10 in the second period. They found lightning in a bottle as the period waned and scored power play goals by Marty Erat and Jason Arnott in the last four minutes, Arnott’s coming with eleven seconds left.

The comeback continued with a J P Dumont power play goal 2:01 into the final period. This was the first time the Predators had scored three power play goals in a game since March 2007. The icing on the cake was an empty netter by David Legwand at the 19:05 mark which was a proper reward for his season high eight shots in the game.

Not to be overlooked in the unusual offensive outburst by the Predators was the outstanding play of goalie Pekka Rinne. After an almost aerobic display at the Young Stars game, Rinne followed with an equally dazzling display of flexibility stopping 24 of 27 Canuck shots. It was not the number of shots that was impressive but the quality of game saving opportunities Rinne made during second half of the contest that paved the way for the Preds comeback. For his efforts, Rinne received first star of the game honors.

The victory was even more impressive in light of the Predators losing defenseman Alexander Sulzer on his second shift. A huge hit on Sulzer near the boards behind the net by former Predator Darcy Hordichuk left the Preds with only five defensemen to juggle for most of the game. Hopefully, Sulzer’s injury will be short lived as it appeared that he was being given the chance to make the jump to the NHL on a permanent basis. Prior to the injury he had played one other game with the Predators.

From this point, with the Predators playoff hopes hanging by a thread, each game takes on critical importance. After Friday’s game with Calgary, the Preds play an early game Sunday at Edmonton before returning home to the Sommet Center where they play 14 of their next 19 games starting with the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday.

Buddy Oakes for Preds on the Glass and The Columbia Daily Herald

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