On February 24 the Predators opened a five-game homestand in 11th place in the Western Conference. Coming off of back-to-back overtime games against the St. Louis Blues, the Preds were teetering along the bubble of the playoff picture.
Once the game began, things didn’t look much better for Nashville as the visiting Chicago Blackhawks scored three times in the second period to take a 3-1 lead into the second intermission. And then things changed. David Legwand
and J.P. Dumont scored three minutes apart early in the third period to tie the game, Joel Ward gave the Predators their first lead of the night with 5:03 remaining in regulation, and Shea Weber
added a power-play goal minutes later to cap a 5-3 come-from-behind win.
Two nights later the Predators rolled through the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-1, out-shooting the Coyotes 47-26 in the process. If no one was paying attention yet, they certainly were after Feb. 28. With the defending Stanley Cup champions in town, Nashville scored four times in the first 10 minutes of the game to chase Detroit netminder Ty Conklin, and then greeted Chris Osgood with a goal less than a minute into his night for a five-goal first-period outburst. The Preds tacked on a second period power-play goal and two third-period scores to post an eye-opening 8-0 win.
Yet still, Nashville opened this week on the outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. A wild back-and-forth 6-5 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night pushed the Predators into the Conference’s top-eight for the first time since December. And then on Thursday night Pekka Rinne
won a Calder Trophy showdown against Steve Mason and the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-2, to close out one of the most successful homestands in team history.
"There was every type of win you could imagine from great comebacks to big wins. When we went through the streak where we weren’t scoring a lot, we needed our goalie to be the first star on a lot of nights. But now that we’re scoring a lot more, it’s not as imperative. We’ve been able to put up some offense on this homestand and that gives Pekka some breathing room." - - Coach Barry Trotz
“I would say it is as good a homestand as we’ve had, because it was opponents that we’re in a battle with to try to pass or try catch,” Trotz said. “So in a lot of ways, yeah, it was (as impressive a homestand as we’ve had). There was every type of win you could imagine from great comebacks to big wins. When we went through the streak where we weren’t scoring a lot, we needed our goalie to be the first star on a lot of nights. But now that we’re scoring a lot more, it’s not as imperative. We’ve been able to put up some offense on this homestand and that gives Pekka some breathing room.”
Over the five-game stretch, the Predators out scored their opponents 27-13. Nashville’s power-play pumped in five goals, while the Preds penalty kill negated all 11 opponent power-plays – including a full two-minute five-on-three early in the first period of Thursday night’s win against Columbus. In fact, during Nashville’s current seven-game point streak (6-0-1), the Predators have been only been shorthanded 17 times. The improved discipline has allowed the Nashville to roll its top lines more frequently.
“Everybody is rallying for a playoff spot and everybody is playing playoff hockey, but right now we have to make sure we keep going,” Preds leading scorer J.P. Dumont said. “We can’t get too high, but at the same time we have to stay positive with all the good things we’re doing.”
Right now Dumont and linemates Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan are doing a lot of good things. On the homestand the trio combined for 28 points on 11 goals and 17 assists, including three game-winning goals.
“We’ve been playing together for a while, going back a few year ago before Sully got hurt. We have some good chemistry and seem to find each other on the ice really quick,” said Dumont.
But Coach Trotz is quick to point out that some of the success Arnott, Dumont, and Sullivan are having is a reflection on the strong play of David Legwand
and his line.
“What I’ve been noticing a few times is the defensive pairings that were lining up for Arnott, when Leggy’s line was really going, those pairing switched to put the stopper group against Legwand and Erat and then Arnott’s line gets the second or third pair. All of a sudden then they have more room to operate and get going a little bit, so it becomes a little bit of a two-headed monster when they are both going.”
“I would say right now Legwand’s playing the most consistent that he has all year. He’s had games that he’s played outstanding. Right now he’s skating. It’s important for us that he’s playing at a high level. He’s playing a lot of minutes and in a lot important situations. He’s really taken his level of play consistently to the next rung. You see the ability he has; you see the skills and the sense that he has on the ice. To me, he’s competing at a higher level and therefore his skills and his ability are shining through a lot more. I think he’s been probably as good a forward as we have. It might not show in all of the offensive categories, but he’s probably been one of our most important forwards since the All-Star Break.”
Lewand has 13 goals in his last 26 games, including five goals and two assists over the five-game homestand. Joel Ward, recently promoted to Legwand’s wing, chipped in three goals and four points on the homestand, while the line’s other wing, Martin Erat
, posted four assists in the first two games, before missing the Detroit and Edmonton games with injury. Erat returned against Columbus and promptly got back on the scoresheet with an early third period goal to give the Preds their two-goal cushion.
Still, with the playoff battle extremely tight in the Western Conference – the sixth through 11th spots are separated by a mere three points – the Predators realize there is a lot of work still to be done.
“The reason that we are having the success is that we’re working and everyone is committed,” Trotz said. “It’s very easy to pat yourself on the back and say we’ve done a good job, but we still have 17 more games to go. A lot can happen in 17 games. The most important game coming up is Philadelphia. We’ve had good success at home, but we’re going to have to have some success on the road if we are going to stay in this position.”