The Nashville Predators defeated the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena in front of a franchise record 22nd sellout crowd. The Preds also played to a national audience, making a rare appearance on the CBC's Hockey night in Canada.
The Predators saw the return of their defense and goal-tending which had been noticeably absent in recent games. After losing three out of their last four games and giving up eleven goals in their last two outing, the Preds looked more like the team that they are known with Pekka Rinne dominating in net and the defense taking away time and space from the opponent.
The Predators had given up the first goal in the last four contests so there was a focus on trying to get on the board first in the game with the Jets.
The key to fulfilling that goal came at 12:24 in the opening period when Rinne and and defenseman Kevin Klein teamed up on a "double save." Rinne made a great block on the initial shot by Andrew Ladd and laid prone on the ice when Klein skated into the crease and blocked and cleared the rebound shot from Bryan Little to keep the game in a scoreless tie.
Klein made light of the stop saying, "(Rinne) saves my butt enough times, so it’s nice to help him out."
Rinne was more serious about the importance of the play. "It's always tough when you give up the first goal and the last couple of games we have given up the first goal and it has been a momentum changer and tonight it was a key moment."
Predators' coach Barry Trotz saw it as a game-changing play. "It was huge. At that point, they (Winnipeg) only had three shots in twelve minutes and then they had a quick flurry and Peks responded and Kleiner helped him out and that was huge for us."
The Predators eventually did get the first goal at 2:26 in the second period on a slick play that started with Klein springing Alexander Radulov who fed the puck to Matt Halischuk on a breakaway that allowed him to pick up his career high 13th goal.
Klein's assist tied him for his career high 18th point. Klein described the effort, "It was nice to chip in. I just got it up to Radulov, and he made a great play, and Halischuk finished with a heck of a shot, and that’s always nice getting those."
The final 3-1 score resulted from Gabriel Bourque picking up a goal later in the second period, Tim Stapleton bringing the Jets within a goal at 12:53 in the third period, and then Captain Shea Weber picking up the power play, empty-netter in the closing seconds.
Trotz discussed the importance of the defensive focus at the season's end and in the playoffs. "If you are going to win playoff rounds and championships, the defense is going to be your foundation and the offense will piggyback on that because you are going to defend well and you will get opportunities that you will capitalize on."
"That's where we've gotten away from the balance in the last little while. We've gotten away from the diligence and work ethic because we were a deeper team. You have to work the same, have the same foundations, and manage the game the way it demands. If we do that, we'll be able to do what we need to do."
At the end of the night, the Predators remained in fifth place at 94 points, two points ahead of Chicago who they will play on Sunday night at the United Center. With Detroit winning 5-4 in Carolina on Saturday, they are still a point out of fourth place and home ice advantage in the playoffs.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass