Friday, April 8, 2011

Predators Wrap Up Playoff Spot with 4-1 Win over Columbus

The Nashville Predators did what was needed in piecing together a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night at the Bridgestone Arena. It was the 17th consecutive win for the Preds over the Jackets in Nashville dating back to start of the 2006-07 season.

Patrick Hornqvist scored two goals to lead the Predators' attack while Matt Halischuk and Sergei Kostitsyn each had single markers. Derick Brassard had the lone goal for the Jackets.

Pekka Rinne had a masterful night in net for the Predators, stopping 44 of 45 shots, many of which were highlight reel saves. Steve Mason allowed four goals on 25 Predator shots.

Rinne said, "It was just one of those nights. They shot everything, and you have to give some credit to the team. I was able to make some saves tonight so I was obviously pretty happy."

The game started off with the Predators clearly controlling play. A few minutes into the game, a catfish was hurled all the way to the center of the ice just inside the Preds' blue line. Play was not suspended as several rushes passed by the dead bottom-dweller.

With the fish still on the ice, Hornqvist took a pass from Mike Fisher at and buried it past Mason at the 6:00 mark to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. For the remainder of the period, the Jackets seemed to play rope-a-dope with the Preds trying to bring them down to their level of play.

The Predators came out in the second period with quick back to back goals to extend the lead to 3-0. At 1:48, Halischuck made a masterful move driving through the slot to slip the puck under Mason's pad. At 2:42, Hornqvist stole the puck at the right board and made a move past two Jacket players and then snapped the puck into the net for his second goal of the evening.

As the second stanza was winding down, Brassard broke up Rinne's shutout attempt wit 1:28 remaining in the period.

The final Predator goal was on a neat move where Hornqvist fired a pass across the blue ice to a charging Kostitsyn who met the puck at the net to make it 4-1 Predators.

For the third game in a row the Predators opponent scored soon after a fight. This time the protagonists were Blake Geoffrion, in his first NHL fight, against Derek McKenzie who is also not known for his pugilistic skills with only one prior fight at the highest level.

The game also marked the return of Steve Sullivan who had not played since February 24th. He skated 13 shifts for 10:05 minutes on the ice. He did not hit the scorecard other than for a two minute tripping penalty.

Sullivan explained, "(Getting back) takes a lot more than you would think. Those boys are fast and in great shape. It takes a little while. I'm glad to get one under."

The Predators have one more game and their destiny is in their hands. If the Preds win against St. Louis on Saturday night, they will clinch fourth place and home ice in the opening round. They finished the game in fourth place with 99 points but hold the tiebreaker with Phoenix who also has 99 points.

Rinne was clear, "We still have a lot on the table. We can still finish fourth. I think we need a little help from other teams but it is still in our hands. That would be amazing to start at home."

Sullivan was positive on the playoff picture, "It's good to go in on our own merits. We want to be a team going into the playoffs on the right foot. The way the guys have been playing lately is a good thing."

Barry Trotz was reflective on the win, "This group has been resilient all year. A month ago, we weren't in the playoffs. We were hovering around ninth or tenth."

"We have played top teams and had to bring it every night. There were some nights that we weren't at our best but Pekka Rinne has been at his best. He is our MVP and without a doubt, he is the best goaltender in the National Hockey League."

Trotz declined to give any hints about the goaltender for Saturday's game. "I'm not going to decide until after midnight and don't call me," he said in jest.

The Predators left for St. Louis immediately after the game and will finish the regular season at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis against the Blues.

More Later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass

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