The Nashville Predators may have played their best game of the season in beating a high energy Calgary Flames team 1-0 to sweep the Western Canada road trip for the second time in franchise history.
Patric Hornqvist scored the game's only goal with 6:22 left in the game and Dan Ellis stopped all 22 Calgary shots for his first shutout of the year. The Predators are now alone in fourth place in the Western Conference with 61 points.
The game got off to an ominous start at 2:11 on the game's second face off when Brian McGratton decided that he wanted a go with Wade Belak. Belak accommodated him and they both spent five minutes in the box. As much as I like a good fight, this one was pointless. Each of the two combatants only played two other shifts and were basically a waste of ink on the line-up card.
The Predators were aggressive from the start out shooting the Flames 10-2 through the first 10 minutes of the game. The Corsi margin was wider at 17-5.
At 11:54, Shea Weber was called for cross-checking Craig Conroy behind the Flames net. The Preds PK unit did not allow a shot on the resulting power play.
The Predators continued heavy pressure for the remainder of the period but Miikka Kiprusoff held firm stopping all 10 Pred shots, while Dan Ellis stopped six Flames shots. The Corsi numbers evened out somewhat as the period ended with a 23-14 margin.
The Flames came out with more life in the second period and appeared to be focusing on working the puck deep and trying to pass from behind the Predator net. The Preds worked hard to keep the puck out of the middle and toward the boards.
The pace and hitting picked up considerably at the mid point in the period as the Predators were skating about as well as they have at any point this season. At 11:16 the Preds pressure forced Mark Giordano into an interference penalty to put the Preds on the man advantage. Nashville was only able to get one shot off.
Seconds after the power play ended at 13:42, Dan Ellis was called for delay of game as he tried to clear the puck away from a charging Jerome Iginla. As the Preds killed off the Flames power play, at 15:52, Rene Bourque was called for high sticking on Cal O'Reilly on a delayed penalty. The Predators applied pressure but only had one shot officially on the man advantage.
The game remained scoreless after two periods of action. For the middle stanza, Calgary out shot the Preds 8-7 while the Corsi numbers were even at 13.
In watching the game through two periods, you got a feeling that it would be a matter of time before the Predators broke through and pick up a loose puck to get the first goal. With the game going scoreless deep through two periods, a freak play could be the difference. It appeared that he first team to score in the third would be the winner.
As the third period started at 1:55, famous referee Stephane Auger called Olli Jokinen for tripping. The Pred power play was cut short 1:04 in when Marty Erat was called for hooking. The series of penalties was all for naught when the Preds killed the 56 seconds of Flames man advantage.
Steve Sullivan had the best chance of the period for the Preds at 6:04 when he had an open net shot defected wide from a few feet in front of the goal. Going the other way at 7:52 Olli Jokinen took a break-away on a Cody Franson miscue and managed to get a post for the closest thing to a goal seen at that point in the game.
Patric Hornqvist finally broke trough with a goal when he sent the puck around the boards to Steve Sullivan who was waiting behind the net, Sully passed it back to Hornqvist who was charging the net and took the feed and slid it through Miikka Kiprusoff's five hole to give the Predators a 1-0 lead with 6:22 remaining in the game.
As the final minutes ticked down, the Predators intensified their work for the puck and even dominated control after the Flames pulled Kiprusoff with 70 seconds left in the game.
The final shot tally was Calgary 22, Nashville 21 with the Flames outshooting the Preds 8-4 in the third.
Storylines From the Game
Is Patric Hornqvist the Best Player in the NHL at This Time?...
Many would argue that no one is playing better hockey over the last few weeks than #27 for the Nashville Predators. 11 of Hornqvist's 19 goals have come in the third period. He has become the player that the Predators have never had who could work the area in front of the net distracting the opponent's goalie and picking up rebounds and putting them in the net to "receive his reward" as Barry Trotz says.
The game winning play started with Hornqvist musseling the puck and feeding it to Steve Sullivan who sent it back to him to finish the play.
Calgary obviously was focusing on Hornqvist the entire game and took every opportunity to hit him along the boards as well as in the dirty areas in front of the net. Hornqvist never flinched and let his stick do the talking by putting the difference maker in the net to win the game.
Goalie Rotation Is Working...
With the rotation in place, this was Dan Ellis' turn to star once again, picking up his first shut out of the year stopping all 22 Calgary shots. Ellis stood firm and appeared more confident than we have seen in a couple of seasons. With the Flames having an empty net, Ellis even launched a high shot at the opposite net that had a good chance of going in had it not been intercepted by Jay Bouwmeester as it landed in the Calgary zone.
Hard-nosed Toe to Toe Play...
The game was one of the harder fought games by both teams this season with heavy pressure on both ends of the ice. Both teams worked their game plans to control the puck and limit the other team's scoring opportunities. The game was full of energy and every inch of ice was a battle and the corners were an all out war. A student of the game would label this contest as an enjoyable one to watch even if you did not have a rooting interest.
The Predators will have a pleasant trip home after the game and have Saturday off before a Sunday practice at Centennial to prepare for Monday's rare visit from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Sommet Center.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass