Friday, March 20, 2009

Predators Finish Road Trip with a Point

A Rare Tootoo Fighting (Elbowing) Loss

The Nashville Predators saved their best effort for last on the four game road trip and came away with another point as they lost 3-2 in a shootout to the San Jose Sharks. Jonathan Cheechoo and Evgeni Nabokov provided the offensive and defensive heroics in the shootout for the Sharks. The Pred’s critical swing to the West coast has to be considered a success by any measure as they collected six of the available eight points on the trip.

The Predators were going into a lion’s den in San Jose where the Sharks were 27-3-4 for the season. The Sharks intensity was magnified after a 90-minute closed-door team meeting on Wednesday. The Sharks saw the need to refocus on the chase for the Presidents Cup after a streak of below average play in the last few weeks that allowed Detroit to pass them in the Western Conference race.

The game started with San Jose clearly out skating the Predators. A slew of unnecessary penalties, two by the Preds and one by the Sharks, led to a five on three advantage for the Sharks and their first goal by Rob Blake at 14:27 in the period. The goal by the Sharks put the Preds back in the league lead in five on three goals allowed, with eleven on the season.

The Preds turned a rather innocuous shot from the blue line into a goal at 16:40 when it was tipped by Joel Ward to give him his 15th goal of the year. A little over a minute later, with the Predators on the penalty kill, Vern Fiddler picked up a mishandled puck at the Sharks blue line and skated full out to the Sharks net and blew it past Evgeni Nabokov into the roof of the net to put the Preds ahead 2-1.

The Sharks rebounded with four seconds left in the period when Milan Michalek picked up a loose puck during a mad scramble to the left side of Pekka Rinne and put it in the net over the sprawling Rinne. The Sharks out shot the Preds 14-8 in the period.

The second period started with a very effective forecheck by the Sharks that really limited the Preds chances. A brutal fight between Jordin Tootoo and Brad Staubitz at 7:39 in the second left Toots bloody and headed for the dressing room for repairs as he was pounded repeatedly primarily by elbow shots to the face. Staubitz called the fight “a battle” on the post game show. A holding penalty against the Sharks shortly after the fight produced a flurry of shots by the Preds on the man advantage but no score. The Predators played much better in the period but were still out shot by the Sharks 12-11.

The third period began with both teams playing spirited hockey. Ryan Jones missed an opportunity to put the Preds ahead at 4:38 when Nabokov was out of position and he missed the open side of the net with a wide-open shot. The Sharks went on the power play at 7:00 when Scotty Nichol was called for holding and the Preds shut down the Sharks who had zero shots during the man advantage. Jordan Tootoo returned to the Pred's bench during the PP with a face shield that drew a few smiles from the San Jose bench.

A great save by Pekka Rinne on an open shot by Jonathan Cheechoo at the 14-minute mark was the save of the game. With less than four minutes left, David Legwand had a chance to bury the puck on Nabokov on a breakaway and a rebound but could not convert. As the clock wound down it looked like the Preds were playing for the overtime point until a final attempt by J P Dumont with 4.8 seconds left almost found the net. Regulation ended tied 2-2 with the Preds gaining a point.

After a scoreless five-minute overtime, the shootout ensued. Joe Pavelski shot first for the Sharks and went high to score. Vern Fiddler followed with a backhander to tie 1-1. After Dan Boyle and Steve Sullivan missed, Jonathan Cheechoo scored the game winner as he roofed the puck over the glove of Pekka Rinne. David Legwand’s final effort to tie was batted away by Nabokov to seal the win for the Sharks.

Pekka Rinne had another fabulous game stopping 38 of 40 Shark shots including four in the overtime period. Rinne received second star honors for his strong play. The Ward, Fiddler, Dumont line provided all the scoring as they continued to work well as a unit.

The overtime loss left the Predators with 77 points and in eight place in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, several of the teams who have played fewer games will finally get the opportunity to play this weekend while the Preds are idle with the opportunity to move them out of the top eight.

The Predators returned home immediately after the game and will have a period of four days with no games before playing the three California teams again at home starting Tuesday with a rematch with the Anaheim Ducks. Hopefully, Jason Arnott, Radek Bonk, and Wade Belak can use the days off to recover from injuries and make it back to the lineup by the puck drop on Tuesday. With ten games left, the Predators probably need another seven wins to seal their playoff position. Until Tuesday, they are left to relax, prepare, and take in a weekend of scoreboard watching.

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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