Friday, April 3, 2009

Pred's Hopes Dim in Loss to Hawks

The Nashville Predators fought a tough battle with the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center but came up on the short end of a 3-1 score. Chicago clinched their first playoff berth in seven years while the Preds are close to missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-2003 season.

The Predators started the game with a lot of jump with the line of Cal O’Reilly, Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward looking like they were ready to play. The Blackhawks scored early at 5:22 in the first period on a backhanded shot by Sammy Pahlsson that he blew past Greg Zanon to hit Pekka Rinne and find its way to the net. Minutes later, rookie Cal O’Reilly picked up a puck sliding through the blue ice and chipped it past Nikolai Khabibulin for his third goal of the season.

During the second period, the Predators seemed to lose their intensity and were outplayed by the Hawks. Jonathan Toews broke through with a goal at 12:26 when he broke free with the puck and drove unencumbered to the net. The Preds were out shot by the Hawks 15-12 for the period but it appeared to be more than a mismatch than the total would indicate.

The Predators had several opportunities in the third period, especially on a play where Cal O’Reilly could have easily swept his second puck of the night from the blue ice to the net but it didn’t happen. The final goal by Chicago was by Marty Havlat on the Predator goalie pull.

Pekka Rinne was the only reason that the game didn’t get completely out of hand. He made several saves on breakaways and point blank shots that most keepers would not have stopped. I don’t think most folks realize how much he has done over the second half of the season to keep the Predators close in every game. Even though the media seems to have ceded the Calder Trophy to Steve Mason of Columbus, I can’t imagine that Rinne will not be the team’s most valuable player. Without Pekka, we would have been competing for a high lottery pick at this summer’s draft.

Another player that deserves special mention in tonight’s game was J P Dumont; unfortunately, it is for his lack of contribution. Considering what a key role he is expected to play on this short-staffed team, it was a major disappointment to see J P with zero shots on the final sheet. Patric Hornqvist and Ville Koistinen also get honorable mentions for not showing up in a key game.

Although the Predators remain in ninth, one point out of the playoff picture, they are close to being in need of life support. With key players Arnott, Erat, and Legwand missing and roll players like Jones, Pihlstrom and Belak also out, the team has suffered two heartbreaking losses on the road this week. The teams they are competing with, Anaheim, St Louis and Minnesota have gained ground that the Preds may not be able to recover.

The Preds return home Saturday night for a rematch with Columbus and then play this same Blackhawk team in the home season finale on Tuesday. It is imperative that the Predators win these two games and pray for help that someone will defeat the teams they are competing against.

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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