Predators Cool Off Avalanche in OT, Extend Lead in Division and Conference
by Ed Neely
The Nashville Predators (42-14-9, 93 points) headed to the Mile High City on the final game of their western road trip to take on the resurgent Colorado Avalanche (35-24-6, 76 points). The Preds looked to increase their lead in the Central Division and Western Conference, while the Avalanche were trying to claw their way into a Wild Card spot. By game’s end, both of these goals would be closer to reality. With a 4-3 overtime win, the Predators increased their lead in the Central to 8 points over the Winnipeg Jets (38-17-9, 85 points) and their lead in the Western Conference to 6 points over the Las Vegas Golden Knights (41-18-5, 87 points). The Avs momentarily took over the final Wild Card spot, but with the Ducks handily beating the Blackhawks, they will hold on to that spot…..for now.
The Preds earned the first lead of the game off an Austin Watson (10) wrister, from Sissons and Ekholm, at 3:09 in the 1st. The Avs tied it up at 12:57 in the 1st off a Nikita Zadorov (6) slap shot from Soderberg and Lindholm. The Preds dominated the 1st half of the 1st period and the Avalanche owned the 2nd half.
The 2nd period was a struggle for both teams, with very little happening until Kyle Turris (12) threw a knuckle puck past Semyon Varlamov at the 8:08 mark off a nice pass from Kevin Fiala below the goal line to Ryan Ellis at the point. The rest of the 2nd was much like the beginning, with both teams getting chances and both goalies turning them back.
The 3rd period was a tough one for Kevin Fiala when he allowed a turnover at the Preds blue line and then knocked the puck past Pekka Rinne after he turned aside a Matt Nieto (13) wrist shot at the 4:38 mark. Colorado took the 3-2 lead at 14:22 in the 3rd when Mikko Rantanen (22) blew a slap shot past Rinne, from MacKinnon and Barrie. The Preds woke up many casual fans and frequent complainers when they pulled Pekka with just over 2:00 to go in regulation, but those people stopped complaining when Ryan Ellis (6), from Subban and Johansen, fired his cannon from the left circle and put it in the back of the net to tie the game with 1:06 remaining.
Overtime ended almost as quickly as it started when Filip Forsberg (18) fooled Varlamov into thinking he was going behind the net and then fired his twisted wrister through the 5 hole to win the game and bring home the 2 points.
What we learned
This team doesn’t quit. The Preds fought adversity in each of their past 4 games to bring home wins. Gone are the days from seasons past when the Preds were prone to blow late-game leads. Now this team believes that they are never out of a game.
This team is DEEP. The Preds learned the lesson well from the Playoffs last season, when 18 forwards played at least 5 games in the postseason due to significant injuries. Lavy made the decision in the past two games to rest significant weapons so that they would be better rested for the stretch. Last game, they sat Roman Josi, Alexei Emelin, Craig Smith and Scott Hartnell and put Mike Fisher, Tony Bitetto, Miikka Salomaki and Matt Irwin in their places. Today, he rested Roman Josi, Craig Smith and Mike Fisher and put Matt Irwin, Miikka Salomaki and Scott Hartnell. This tells me that Lavy has a plan and is not afraid to execute it.
Pekka is really good. Rinne secures his 35th win of the year in only 48 games. Only Tampa’s Vasilevskiy has more wins (38) and he has played 6 more games than Pekka. Rinne has placed himself firmly into the Vezina Trophy conversation and has easily secured the title of MVP for the Predators.
Next game is Tuesday night in Smashville against the Dallas Stars (37-23-5, 79 points). The Stars are trying to stay out of a Wild Card spot and in the division race and the Preds are looking to make a push for the President’s Trophy and to welcome Mike Fisher back to Bridgestone Arena with a win.
David Zalubowski AP Photo