Preds Blast Jets, Grab Stranglehold on Central Division
by Taylor Parks
The Smashville faithful packed into another sold out Bridgsstone Arena to watch what could be one of the most important games of the season. The 2nd place Winnipeg Jets come into town fresh off an OT loss against Washington the night before. On top of there already hefty injury list, Paul Stastny was a late scratch after an injury that might have been sustained in the warm ups.
From the opening faceoff, the Predators played some of their best hockey of the entire season. After drawing a penalty in the first minute of the period, the Predators tallied at 2:48 on a snipe from Kevin Fiala (22). The Predators would really take charge of the game when Mike Fisher was called for tripping at 7:32. Not often do teams grab momentum while on the penalty kill, but this on will be one Pred fans remember for a very long time. Austin Watson broke in shorthanded and tallied his 4th short handed goal of the season at 8:15 to go up 2-0. Believe it or not, the scoring did not stop there. Just 34 seconds later, Viktor “Hustle” Arvidsson would score yet another short handed goal to give the Predators a 3-0 lead. This would prompt a Winnipeg timeout, a changing of the Jets’ goalie, and a standing ovation for the Nashville Predators.
The second period would give us a more balanced game, with the Jets digging in and out shooting the Predators 12-11. Unfortunately for the Jets, they couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne and the Predators maintained a 3-0 lead after 2 periods.
The Jets would come out in the 3rd period looking to get back on track, and while on the power play, Kyle Connor would score his 23rd of the season to give life to the Jets. At the 12 minute mark, Austin Watson had the save of the game (you read that correctly) as he poked a puck out of the blue ice after Patrik Laine looked to have beaten Rinne. With under two minutes to go, the bad blood really got going. Both teams received multiple penalties with some rough and rugged play. The Preds would still prevail and gain complete control of the Central Division and the Western Conference in addition to taking the overall league lead by virtue of a game in hand for Nashville.
What We Learned
Tonight the NHL was Put on Watch
For the first time since the acquisition of Mike Fisher and Ryan Hartman, the Predators chose not to rest any of the starting players, and possibly showing off their starting lines for the playoff run. If the NHL learned anything tonight, it’s that the Predators are the real deal. From top to bottom, the Predators might just be the most balanced and dominant team in the entire league. This is a special team, and if they can stay free of the injury bug, it’s hard to imagine the team losing.
Western Conference Watch
After tonight’s win, the Predators are the first Western Conference team to get to the 100 point mark. With the win, they now lead the Vegas Golden Knights by 5 points and the Jets by 8 points. At this point, the Predators are in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed and home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference bracket and possibly through the Stanley Cup Final.
Rinne Continues to Dominate
It doesn’t take a part-time Blackhawks fan to realize that Pekka Rinne has been playing some of the best hockey of his entire career, but how dominant has he really been. I could talk about his “Goals Against Average” or his “Save Percentage”, but I’m going to let the record speak for itself. Since the beginning of 2018 Rinne is 19-2-1. That is no typo. He has been nearly impekkable this year (sorry I had to). Vezina Trophy or not, he is the reason the Predators are in the position they are in.
Photo Credit to Mark Humphrey/ AP