Tuesday night’s 2-1 overtime victory against the Vancouver Canucks may well have been the single most exhilarating regular season win in Nashville Predators history.
With less than a minute to go in regulation time, and the Preds clinging to a 1-0 lead, an errant giveaway by forward Colton Sissons enabled the Canucks to tie the score and send the game into overtime.
Since 3 on 3 play was installed in the NHL’s repertoire, the Predators have failed miserably, winning just two of its’ previous eighteen matchups within the extra five minute period. You can’t help but feel as if the extra point would just be handed to Vancouver based on Nashville’s track record over the previous year plus.
Adding insult to injury, the Preds had a goal waved off at the outset of the extra frame, as Viktor Arvidsson was cited for incidental contact with Vancouver goaltender Ryan Miller. Throw in a penalty to defenseman Mattias Ekholm with less than two minutes remaining, and the crowd braced for the best possible outcome, which was to move on to the shootout round.
However, with just scant seconds remaining, Preds defenseman Roman Josi applied pressure, and suddenly he and teammate, forward Calle Jarnkrok found themselves streaking towards Miller in an improbable 2 on 0 scenario. With the clock ticking, Josi deftly moved the puck to his right, finding Jarnkrok on the fly, and with less than two seconds remaining in overtime, the Swede fired a shot behind Miller, and just like that from Swiss to Swede, the game was finished! Nashville came away with a sorely needed second point and hopefully some valuable momentum.
Tonight (Thursday), the Boston Bruins came to town, firing on all cylinders, but it was Nashville’s OTHER Finnish netminder, Juuse Saros who was the difference maker as the Preds downed Boston by an identical 2-1 score, but this time in regulation. Goals by Austin Watson, his third in three games, and Filip Forsberg were all the offense needed, as Saros stopped 35 of 36 Bruin shots for the win.
Boston and Nashville came into tonight’s contest in slightly different situations within their respective conferences. While Boston currently sits in the number two spot with 49 points in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division, they have played 44 games and find Ottawa at 46 points with five games in hand. Similarly, Florida, currently on the outside of the post-season picture, looking in, have 46 points, but have played 43 games to this point. Toronto at 44 points, also have five games in hand on Boston, so the Bruins post-season picture is murky at best.
While murky may be a good word to describe Nashville’s situation, the dramatic win from Tuesday night might go a long way towards straightening the ship and moving forward in choppy waters. The Preds are in fourth place in the Western Conference’s Central Division, with 43 points. They find themselves trailing third place St. Louis by 4 points, and each team has played 41 games. Winnipeg (43 points) and Dallas (42 points) sit directly behind Nashville, but each has played more games to this point.
Throw in the hot Pacific Division, where Calgary has 48 points to earn their current “wild card” berth, and both Los Angeles and Vancouver with 44 points (Los Angeles would get the nod as the second “wild card” team at this point by virtue of fewer games played, and more regulation and overtime wins.
All this adds up to a desperate Nashville hockey team, who will go on the road for five games over a ten day period after the Bruins contest. Games against Colorado, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Minnesota will be challenging on a myriad of levels. Whether it’s the “expected win” in Colorado, where the Preds have already won twice, or the tough game in Minnesota, as Nashville has dropped two games to the Wild in Nashville, or the Western Canadian teams who are all in this post-season hunt, you can be sure the Predators will be tasked with playing complete 60 minute games, and not being able to let up on their intensity for a moment.
The injury bug has hit the Predators hard, with defenseman P.K. Subban still out, as well as forwards James Neal and Miikka Salomaki. Additionally, Colin Wilson has recently missed time, as well the spark plug Arvidsson, who missed a couple of games, but did return on this homestand.
While there have been some bright spots for Nashville, it’s hardly considered a success when you are looking at the playoff picture from the outside. With forty-one games remaining, and six teams hovering in the vicinity of what will only be two extra spots after the top three in each division, Nashville must set its’ sights on overtaking St. Louis (not impossible,) and guaranteeing themselves entry that way, and not letting the wild-card picture hold their destiny. To do so, better production will be needed from the forwards, stingier defense from the rearguards, and stellar goaltending from perennial superstar Rinne, and his young counterpart Saros.
Strap yourself in. We have about three months of intense second half action in front of us, and you’ll want to be there for the ride, bumpy or otherwise!