Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Predators Playoff Hopes Dimmed

Jason Arnott, Steve Sullivan and Pekka Rinne

Coach Barry Trotz

The Nashville Predators amazing run for the NHL playoffs took a beating Tuesday night at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, who handed the Preds a 4-2 loss at the Sommet Center.

Two Blackhawk goals in the first fifty second of the second period turned what had been a promising evening into something akin to a funeral wake. The crowd (and the team) was left stunned and never quite recovered.

The game started off well, with the Predators skating with plenty of energy and pushing the puck consistently into the Chicago zone. After a Cam Barker tripping penalty, Vern Fiddler scored a power play goal at 12:53 to put the Preds ahead 1-0. Although they were out shot 10-7 in the first period, the Preds appeared to be playing in their comfort zone on the ice.

That changed abruptly twelve seconds into the second period when Jonathan Toews rang a puck off the post into the net. On the following shift, 38 seconds later, Dustin Byfuglien picked up a loose puck on a rebound and easily place it tin the net. Needless to say, the two rapid fire goals took all the air out of the building leaving the crowd quiet enough to hear the players talking on the ice.

Barry Trotz commented, “We were stunned for a bit there and in the end that might have been the worst 38 seconds of the year”.

Patrick Kane drove another nail in the Predators coffin with a goal off a Dan Hamhuis turnover at 11:25 in the second. What little sprit the building had was further weakened. The period ended 3-1 Hawks, and the Predators faced an uphill battle in the third as Chicago had a 33-2-3 record on the year when leading after two periods.

Captain Jason Arnott did his best to rally the troops when he scored his 30th goal of the season at 3:29 in the third. The play was set up by Steve Sullivan who sent a perfect pass in for Arnott’s tip into the net.

The team did it’s best to claw back into the game but the Chicago defense stiffened and did not allow much room around the net. An empty netter by Marty Havlat at 19:05 sent the masses into the night in what most folks assume will be the last game in the Sommet Center this year.

There were several questionable calls in the final stanza that seemed to dampen the Predators chances. A couple of key offsides calls on odd man rushes were clearly called when no infraction occurred. Jason Arnott was highly vocal on one call that probably would have had him called for unsportsmanlike conduct had the refs not realized that they had missed the call.

Another non-call, where Marty Havlet bashed Scotty Nichol across the bridge of his nose with his stick caused blood to spill all over the ice. The clean up crew left it there for the officials to see but no “make-up” call ever ensued. A four minute power play could have turned the game completely around in the Pred's favor.

Coach Trotz commented on how another goal would have changed everything, “In the third period we were resilient – if we get the next one, then you never know. We did do that, but we just weren’t able to get the third one.”

The players were not happy after the game, but clearly are focused on the next two games. Steve Sullivan summed it up well, “Destiny is not in our hands but the least we can do now is win our games and sit and wait. We still have some work to do and if we do our job and win two games then we can see what happens”.

The players and coaches really felt that they had given the Hawks their chances. The usually soft-spoken Pekka Rinne said, “We gave them everything. Also it was their best players and when they’re on the ice we have to be more responsible and smarter with the puck. But today it just cost us. But after that we really played a strong game and the guys really did a great job. We still have a lot of energy for the next two games.”

He further said, “They use their speed and their skill, but we also helped them. We turned the puck over way too much against their best players. But that’s hockey and they executed. Obviously I could have made a save or two”.

Rinne seemed prepared to put it behind him and get ready for the next game, “This feels really devastating. Now it’s out of our hands and we just have to win our next two games and hope that we get some help. That’s all we can do right now”.

The Predators will travel to Detroit for a game Thursday night at the Joe Louis Arena and then move on to Minneapolis for a Friday night match with Minnesota in two games they must win to have a shot at the eighth and final playoff spot.

While the Preds were losing, St Louis punished Phoenix by a score of 5-1 giving the Blues a two point lead for eight place in the Western Conference. Minnesota also won to pull within a point of the Preds and do not play again until the game with Nashville Friday night.

Clearly, barring St Louis losing their two remaining games against Columbus and Colorado, the Predators will need to win their final two games and hope that someone stops the red-hot St Louis Blues.

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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