-- When the Nashville Predators
opened up their season, they did so with six players who had official rookie status.
Predators coach Barry Trotz credited goalie Pekka Rinne
, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, with keeping the team with preventing the team from possibly losing all of its first six or seven games, so unsteady was its play.
But two games beyond the season's midpoint, the Predators are rounding into form. They won their third straight and sixth out of seven with a 3-2 come-from-behind overtime win against Colorado at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night -- a game in which the Predators came to Rinne's rescue.
scored two goals, his 11th and 12th, including the game-winner 34 seconds into overtime, for the Predators, who began the day sixth in the Western Conference, as they are looking to earn their seventh playoff berth in the last eight seasons.
"We've come a long way from the first weekend," Trotz said. "… Our team now is a team. It plays better without the puck. It plays better with the puck and it's just the growing pains of having a young team, but the exciting thing about that is we've got through that and we are very fortunate that we've got a great goaltender who got us through that and now I think we can play with anybody and we show that every night."
The first period was hardly a memorable one for Rinne. At 6:09, he gave Colorado a gift -- Rinne attempted to clear the puck out of the zone and sent it right up the middle, where Ryan O'Reilly
was waiting and whipped in a wrist shot before the goaltender could recover. It was O'Reilly's 12th goal and team-best 31st point.
A little more than six minutes later, rookie Gabriel Landeskog
skated down the left wing unmolested and ripped a slap shot from below the hash marks that zipped through Rinne's five-hole.
"I gave up kind of two free ones to them and it's not a good feeling when you know you make a couple of mistakes," Rinne said. "But guys responded once again and battled back and it feels, at least for myself, really good when you feel like you do didn't do your job in the first period and guys bailed me out."
Colorado outshot Nashville 15-7 in the first period, but the Preds regained momentum in the second. They pulled within 2-1 at 11:02 with the help of a strong cycle game and some line shuffling.
Some of the comeback began when Trotz began shortening his bench. Enforcer Brian McGrattan
only earned one shift in the second period. Meanwhile, Matt Halischuk
, who started the game on the fourth line, got a shift with Legwand and Colin Wilson
, who play on the top line. Halischuk went backhand-to--forehand behind the net and threw the puck into the slot, where Legwand banged it in from close range.
"Hally is one of those guys who gets in there on the forecheck and does a good job," Legwand said. "He likes to stuff the puck around the net so you've got to realize that's the kind of player he is and get around the net when he has the puck."
tied the game with 11:12 left in regulation when he skated down the left wing and carried the puck practically into Avs defenseman Ryan Wilson
. Somehow, Kostitsyn kept the puck away from Wilson and snapped a high shot over Avs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere
. Kostitsyn, who led Nashville with 23 goals last season, has four goals in five games since the start of the new year after only five in his first 31 games.
Kostitsyn seemed unsure of whether he is getting hot.
"I don't know," he said. "Let's talk about that after the next three games or something. I don't know. I hope so."
Colorado lost its third straight but earned its first point during that streak. The Avs began the day only two points out of the West's final playoff spot.
Giguere earned the start, only his second in the last five games, when Semyon Varlamov
was hit in the knee by a puck the day before in practice. Regardless, Giguere was brilliant with 32 saves, coming far out of the paint to cut down angles, diving to stop a puck with his paddle and scrambling to keep his team in the game late, as Avs coach Joe Sacco said he thought his team got too passive.
"I thought Jiggy was outstanding," Sacco said. "He made some real big saves for us, especially down the end there. Basically, we were trying to get it to overtime… He was one of the main reasons we were able to hold on to that one point."
Sacco said having to kill six Nashville power plays to the Avs' two sapped his team of momentum.
"I have a hard time understanding why that's been lately," Sacco said of the disparity. "It's been a common theme for us. I'd like to see us get some more power plays."
One positive for Colorado was that Peter Mueller
played for the first time in 40 games. The former 20-goal scorer has played in only 19 games over the last three seasons because of head injuries. He had a golden scoring chance late in the second period but Rinne turned it aside. In 13:10 of time on ice, he had a team-high five shots and was minus-1 with a hit.
"It was good to be back," Mueller said, "but it was a tough game. Plain and simple, it was tough. A couple bad bounces but you have to give credit to (Giguere). Unbelievable game by him. We have to be more disciplined and we have to stay out of the box."
As good as Giguere was, he did not have any help on the game-winner. After almost getting beat the other way, Legwand recovered the puck in the neutral zone, taking advantage of a funny bounce. He entered the Avs' zone and put a simple shot on Giguere, who made the save -- but Legwand followed his shot and flipped the rebound over Giguere's shoulder.
"It's big obviously, they are right behind us," Legwand said of what is now a four-point edge after Nashville also beat the Avs on Tuesday. "They weren't two points behind us to start the week, so if we can create a little gap and get some padding between us, that's big."