By Seth Lake
Heading into their final three games of the regular season in the midst of a fight for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning next week, the Nashville Predators took to the ice at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night facing a Minnesota Wild club that had fallen out of the playoff race, but had a roster full of hard-working players fighting for jobs for next season and looking to finish strong.
After Gabriel Bourque and Dany Heatley scored even-strength goals in the second period, Anders Lindback (25 saves) and Niklas Backstrom (23 saves) matched each other save for save as the game headed into a shootout. On the strength of an Alexander Radulov shootout goal and 3 stops from Lindback the Predators escaped with a 2-1 victory.
- Lindback gets rare start – Showing no rust while making his 9th start of the season in the Predators 80th game of the regular season, Lindback got his second home start this season at Bridgestone Arena. Facing 12 shots in the first period, Lindback turned them all aside getting into an early rhythm and despite allowing a goal in the second period on a great deflection from Heatley off to the side of the net; Lindback gave the Predators exactly what they were looking for all night, a chance to win. With Minnesota on a 4-on-3 power-play advantage for the first 1:49 of overtime, Lindback made a couple of great saves to frustrate the Minnesota attack and send the game into a shootout. Making his first regular season career appearance in the shootout, Lindback stopped all three shooters to get the win and possibly earn himself another start in the final two games of the regular season. With Pekka Rinne feeling a bit under the weather on Tuesday, Chet Pickard dressed as the backup to Lindback after being recalled from Cincinnati (ECHL) on Monday to practice with the team for the remainder of the season.
- Predators strike first – After a scoreless first period, Bourque got the Predators on the scoreboard first benefitting from a great play by Nick Spaling in on the forecheck. With the Predators in the midst of a line change, Spaling came off the bench and applied immediate pressure on Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner along the near boards cutting him off from advancing the puck and eventually leading to a turnover as Stoner fell near the top of the faceoff circle. Spaling collected the puck and brought it down the wing in on Wild goaltender before sliding it across to Bourque crashing the back post for the goal. The goal was Bourque’s 9th point (4 goals, 5 assists) in 10 games since being scratched on March 15th at San Jose. With the win, the Predators are now 33-3-4 this season when scoring first.
- Radulov gets last laugh – Being the most dynamic player for the Predators since his return, it wasn’t surprising to see the Wild attempt to get Radulov off his game through physical play last night and it worked for the most part until the shootout where Radulov faced off with Backstrom 1 on 1 and made it count. After losing the handle on the puck on his first touch, Radulov came in slowly on Backstrom before deking to his forehand and lifting the puck into the net for the game-winning goal. Although he remains at 6 points through 7 games, Radulov continues to be a difference maker for the Nashville Predators since his return.
- Penalty killing returns to form – After allowing two goals against in their last game on Saturday night, the Predators penalty-kill returned to form against the Wild going 4 for 4 on the night including key penalty kills at the start of the second period and beginning of overtime. In overtime facing a 4 on 3 kill, the Predators stayed in a tight triangle in front of Lindback stopping the Wild from getting clean chances through the defense and instead forcing the Wild to pass over and around the defense. Paul Gaustad and Nick Spaling were the two forwards used on the kill along with the pairings of Hal Gill-Kevin Klein and Ryan Suter-Shea Weber on the back end. With their success, the Predators penalty-killing unit moved from 13th to 10th in the NHL with an 83.3% success rate. Along with their No. 1 rated power-play (21.9%), the Predators are one of three teams to rank both their special teams units in the top-10 in the league (Vancouver and Pittsburgh).
- Search continues for right combos – After getting no ice time from the midpoint of the second period onward on Saturday night, it was no surprise that Matt Halischuk and Jordin Tootoo sat out on Tuesday as healthy scratches. In their place, Craig Smith and Brandon Yip returned to the lineup, but had little impact playing 6:36 and 7:37 respectively. With depth being so vitally important down the stretch and throughout the playoffs, the search continues for the right combination on the 4th line with Gaustad. Colin Wilson continues to sit on the sidelines in the midst of a 6 game scoreless streak, but did show chemistry with Tootoo and Spaling earlier this season combining as the Predators best line for over a month prior to the All-Star break. It will be interesting to see if Wilson and Tootoo get the opportunity in one of the final two games to see if they can rekindle some of that chemistry. In addition to the shuffling of the 4th line, late in the third period on Saturday night Klein was moved up to the second defensive pairing alongside Gill down the stretch. Klein and Gill have played well together in limited time and give the Predators a shutdown second defensive pairing. This will be something to continue to monitor as the season winds down. Will Josi move back to the second pairing on Thursday with Gill or will Klein get the call again?
Starts and Stops
- Andrei Kostitsyn is a very underrated physical player. Seeing the Wild play physical with his linemate Alexander Radulov, Kostitsyn ramped up his physical play on Tuesday night as well throwing a game-high five hits.
- Paul Gaustad (13-8, 62%) and Mike Fisher (11-11, 50%) took the majority of the draws for the Predators who won 34 of 65 faceoffs (52%) as a team last night. Mikko Koivu lead the Wild taking a game-high 31 draws going 14-17 (45%).
- With warm weather throughout Middle Tennessee the past couple of weeks, the ice at Bridgestone Arena suffered last night. Bouncing pucks and players falling all over the ice were a common sight throughout the night for both teams. Thankfully, a temporary dehumidifying system has been installed at the arena for the remainder of the season as evidenced by the clear plastic tubing in the rafters and big truck outside the back entrance. This should help stabilize the ice conditions going forward.