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Post-Game Musings: at Florida

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
The Preds put together an opportunistic performance, scoring one goal in all three periods to claim a 3-1 win at Florida, never trailing at any point of the night despite being out-shot 23-40 by the Panthers. The shot total didn’t really paint the full picture of the game, as the Preds limited the Panthers second-chance opportunities defensively and a handful of Nashville’s best scoring chances occurred without an official shot on goal, including two odd-man rushes in waning moments of the first period and three attempts at the empty net late in regulation. Pekka Rinne was his usual stellar self, making 39 saves for his 36th win of the season, tying the franchise single-season wins mark set by Tomas Vokoun back in 2005-06, while Andrei Kostitsyn spearheaded the offense with a goal -- the 100th of his career -- and an assist in 12:50 of ice time.

Most importantly, the Preds skated away with the two points to climb back within four points of St. Louis -- pending the results of the Blues game later tonight -- for the No. 4 seed in the Conference (and home-ice advantage in the first round) and within six points of Detroit in the Division race as the Preds return home for a three-game homestand, including a visit from Detroit a week from today.

Now on the musings…

New Line Clicks: The line of David Legwand centering Patric Hornqvist and Andrei Kostitsyn was Nashville’s most dangerous offensive trio in tonight’s game, combining for nine of the team’s 23 shots on goal and two of the team’s three goals scored. Legwand and Hornqvist have been paired together for much of the season, but the addition of Kostitsyn brought an added element of creativity. On the line’s second shift of the game – around three minutes into the game – Roman Josi nearly converted a back-door feed from Kostitsyn and then on the same shift Kostitsyn found Hornqvist tape-to-tape cutting down the center slot – it set the tone for the line’s play throughout the night. Kostitsyn’s skill was displayed on both of the line’s goals, going coast-to-coast with a bouncing puck before snapping a shot from the faceoff dot inside the far post and then snapping a tape-to-tape pass from the far-side boards at the redline to Legwand curling to the offensive blueline to spring Leggy for a breakaway goal.

Erat’s Physicality: Martin Erat was only credited with 1 hit and 1 Blocked Shot, but on my unofficial card he won around 10 physical one-on-one battles tonight, most notably out-battling Mike Weaver behind the net to set up Nashville’s second goal and out-bodying Jason Garrison to create a breakaway and draw Nashville’s lone power-play of the night and allow the Preds to run out the final seconds of the game. Among his other notable highlights, Erat bodied up a Panthers defender along the blueline on Nashville’s first period penalty kill, creating a turnover and an easy clear for the Preds and on Nashville’s third penalty kill (late in the second period), Erat made a similar play on the forecheck behind the Florida net to disrupt the Panther breakout attempt and lead to turnover and allow the Preds to wean an additional 7-10 seconds off the Florida power-play. As Coach Trotz preaches, it is the one-on-one battles that are instrumental to this team’s success and Erat was superb in those battles tonight.

Stretching the Defense: The Florida Panthers game is based around speed and tonight they repeatedly attempted long passes against Nashville – both “North-South” up the ice and “East-West” across the width of the ice. The Preds stayed positionally disciplined and limited the Panthers ability to create odd-man rushes – with the exception of a two-minute block early in the third period when Florida connected on passes on a pair of shifts to create two dangerous scoring chances. Some of the Preds best transition chances came after they broke-up Panthers stretch passes.

Ryan Suter on the play of the Hal Gill/Roman Josi pairing…
“I think it’s going to help us in the long run and once we get into the playoffs. We’re not playing as much as we did before we got Hal (Gill). All of our defensemen are really stepping up right now.”

Ryan Suter on Andrei Kostitsyn
“The way he shoots the puck you have to just take your hat off to him.”

Mike Fisher on the game-winning goal
“(Martin Erat) made a great play. I was able to try a quick shot and found a hole I guess. It was a great play by Marty, so mostly him.”

1) G Pekka Rinne - stopped 39-of-40 shots, including all 15 in the first period; tied the Preds team record for wins in a season (36)
2) F Andrei Kostitsyn - 1g-1a; was dangerous with the puck on his stick all night
3) F Martin Erat - 1a; assisted on the game-winning goal, drew the team's lone power-play, was instrumental in PK's 3-for-3 night
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