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Post-Game Musings: at Chicago

by Jim Diamond / Nashville Predators
It was by no means easy, but the bottom line is that the Predators earned the two points with their 3-1 win in Chicago Tuesday night over the Blackhawks. The win gives the Predators 64 points in the standings. Chicago has 64 points as well, but because the Predators have two more regulation/overtime wins than the Blackhawks, they leapfrog them into third place in the Central Division and the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture.

The talented Blackhawks did not go down without a fight. After trailing 2-0 early, they cut the Nashville lead to one at the 7:20 mark of the third. Chicago kept the pressure on the rest of the game, and Nashville even had to kill off two late power plays to stay in front. Colin Wilson’s empty-net goal iced it for the Predators.

Once again, Pekka Rinne was spectacular between the pipes. The victory was his ninth in a row, extending his franchise record. Rinne is 18-2-0 in his last 20 decisions.

While Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, and Craig Smith travel to Ottawa for the All-Star Game festivities, the rest of the Predators will have a well-deserved break of nearly a week.

Central Sweep: After Nashville fell to the New York Rangers last Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, all that stood between the Predators and the All-Star break were four Central Division games over the course of six days. The quartet of games involved two games against both Chicago and Columbus, playing each of them once at home and once on the road. With Tuesday’s victory over the Blackhawks in the United Center, the Predators closed out the pre-All-Star portion of their schedule with a perfect four wins in those four games. The Predators have a record of 11-2-2 in Central Division games this season, which is the best record within the Central among its five members. No small feat, considering Detroit has the most points in the NHL this season, St. Louis the third-most, and Chicago tied for the fourth-most (with Nashville and Boston).

Second Season for Smith: In both of his seasons at the University of Wisconsin, rookie center Craig Smith played in 41 games. The NCAA season is quite short in comparison to the NHL’s long-haul 82 game regular season plus playoffs, so sometimes it is a big adjustment for college players to make the jump to the NHL. After making the Nashville roster out of training camp, Smith started the season off strong, scoring seven goals and adding seven assists in his first 15 games. When his production slowed recently, Head Coach Barry Trotz suggested that because Smith had already played the equivalent of a full college season, he needed to find a way to get over the wall to finish the remainder of this season strong. Smith’s first period goal against Chicago Tuesday night gave him two goals and an assist in his last three games. He has three goals in three games played against the Blackhawks this season. Smith’s 18 road points are tops on the Predators.

Soccer Games Pay Off: Part of the pregame ritual for several Predators players involves kicking a soccer ball around an area outside of the team’s locker room. It is a practice that has increased in popularity as more European players traveled across the Atlantic to play in the NHL. One of the Predators who takes place in those games is Patric Hornqvist, and his soccer experiences paid off in a goal for Mike Fisher late in the first period Tuesday night. Since the use of hands is prohibited in soccer, Hornqvist channeled his inner-soccer player when he was tied up below the Chicago goal line with the puck near his feet. Hornqvist spotted Fisher skating into the low slot and put the boot to the puck, which landed right in Fisher’s wheelhouse, and he had an easy tap-in for his 12th goal of the season.

D Kevin Klein (On the start of the game): “We knew they were going to come out flying in front of their home crowd the last game before the break. Both teams skated pretty well, forechecked pretty well, and we managed to get two by them, which is always a positive.”

D Shea Weber (Playing back-to-back games): “Playing last night, you want to keep your shifts short, and I think every period we made a conscious effort to make our shifts shorter to leave something in the tank for that last push.”

Barry Trotz (On Chicago’s pressure before Fisher’s goal): “Sometimes in this game you have to survive shifts and we had to survive that one. We just didn’t get it deep and we were unable to get a change. Our defense got caught out there. They did a good job with the transitions. That’s usually what happens, you end up in your end and you get one chance to go down and score. We were able to do that. The game is all about weathering storms.”

G Pekka Rinne, Nashville: 24 saves
D Ryan Suter, Nashville: One assist, game-high 28:24 of ice time
F Dave Bolland, Chicago: One goal, won 17-of-20 faceoffs

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