Sunday, March 29, 2009

Preds! You Leave Me Breathless!

As I headed toward the bed to prop up and watch the Predators play the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, I was completely unprepared for what I would soon witness. I was hopeful for a win but could not imagine that I would experience the emotion that Jerry Lee Lewis wrote about 41 years ago.

The Nashville Predators continued their march toward destiny with an incredible “return from the grave” 4-3 comeback victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

The win combined with St. Louis’s back to back wins over Columbus has completely reshuffled the Western Conference race with five Central Division teams currently in the top eight. The Preds now have 84 points and are only two behind Columbus, who they play on the road Tuesday night, and are a point ahead of the surging St Louis Blues.

Against the Wings the Predators came out and scored first, 2:25 into the contest when Steve Sullivan slipped a shot past Chris Osgood on the power play. The Wings answered quickly two minutes later on a short handed goal by Henrik Zetterberg. The Wings appeared to have scored again in the closing seconds of the period when a goal was waived off by the “eye in Toronto” saying that Johan Franzen had kicked the puck past Pekka Rinne with his skate.

The second period was not a good one for the Predators when they were out shot 16-3 and were really showing the fatigue of all the overtime games they have played over the last two weeks. A couple of sloppy penalties put the Wings on a five on three advantage at the 13:59 mark. With one second left before getting a player out of the box, Pavel Datsyuk sent a cross ice pass past Vern Fiddler and allowed Mikael Samuelson to hit the open side of the net. It was the league leading 12th 5 on 3 goal given up by the Preds this year. By the end of the period I really felt that the Preds were lucky to only be down 2-1.

The Predators continued to play on emotion and stay close as the third period began. In spectaular fashion, Joel Ward broke through with a game tying goal at 11:35 to make the score 2-2. Before I could catch my breath, twenty seconds later, Jerred Smithson knocked a puck free in the Wings zone, recovered it, and sent it to Cal O’Reilly who in turn passed it back to Smithson who shot it cleanly into the net. All the energy loss shown by the Preds in the prior period was replaced by pure adrenaline.

While I was trying to regain my composure, I got an assist from Johan Franzen who re-tied the game at 14:35, 3-3. As I surfed over to SportClubStats to see what one point would do for us in the playoff chase, I was stunned to see that Jordin Tootoo had lured Chris Chelios into what seems like the hundredth penalty Tootoo has caused Chelios to commit. Chelios really does not like Tootoo at all.

As the resulting power play unfolded, Steve Sullivan found Ryan Suter near the blue line. He put the shot on net and gave the Preds a 4-3 lead that would hold through the remainder of the game. The rest of the game was indeed breathless hockey as you were afraid to exhale for what might happen. As the final seconds ticked down, a clearly frustrated Wings team jostled with an elated Preds team to bring the contest to an incredible conclusion.

Pekka Rinne was outstanding in stopping 33 of 36 Red Wing shots. He was especially stingy in the closing moments as all you could see was Pekka surrounded by a sea of players wearing red. He must have had x-ray vision to have been able to see through all the screens that we couldn’t seem to clear out.

The one real downside to the game was a “lower body injury” to Marty Erat halfway through the contest. I would speculate that he will be listed as “day to day” at best, as he was truly hobbled (ESPN now reporting a fracture and out 4-6 weeks). The one thing the Predators did not need was an addition to the injured list which already includes Captain Jason Arnott, David Legwand and Ryan Jones. I would suggest that Mike Santorelli start packing because he will be getting a call, if he hasn’t already.

After a much needed day off on Monday, the Predators will play Columbus at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night with a chance to tie for sixth place. They then travel to Chicago for a match Friday night before heading back to the Sommet Center Saturday night for another game with Columbus.

As the season seemed to have slipped away after an embarrassing loss to Atlanta and a listless loss to the New Jersey Devils in the last two games before the All-Star break, no one could have imagined that we would be sitting on 84 points with six games remaining. Since the All-Star break, the Preds are 18-7-5 and appear to be a team of destiny. Barry Trotz truly needs to be considered for coach of the year honors if the under-manned Predators hold on and return to the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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