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Post-Game Musings: vs. Vancouver

by Doug Brumley / Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks stood toe-to-toe for 65 minutes Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena, trading goals, chances and saves in an evenly matched Western Conference showdown that was ultimately decided in Vancouver’s favor by the slimmest of margins--4-3 in a six-round shootout.

Vancouver’s league-leading power play put Nashville down 1-0 at the 11:42 mark of the first. Ryan Kesler, who plagued the Predators in last season’s Western Conference Semifinal playoff series, fired a shot from the right faceoff circle to beat goaltender Pekka Rinne, but the visitors’ lead was short-lived. Just 1:05 later, Colin Wilson picked up a turnover and scored from the left circle on a shot that was slowed beneath Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo’s left armpit but fluttered into the net.

Vancouver struck twice in the 18th minute of play to go up 3-1 before the first intermission, but Nashville evened the margin in the first 5:16 of the second period with goals by Sergei Kostitsyn and Mike Fisher. Both tallies were redirections of point shots—the first a Kevin Klein slap pass that was persuaded on goal by Kostitsyn’s steady skate (video review confirmed the goal), and the second a mid-air tip of a Shea Weber chance by Fisher in the slot.

After trading chances to no avail in the third period and overtime, the teams moved on to the shootout where Alexander Edler broke the deadlock. The Predators, who could have overtaken the Canucks in the standings with a regulation win, instead settled for one point for the overtime loss and now sit two points back of the defending Western Conference finalists.
This Nashville team, now 14-3-1 in its last 18 games, departs Wednesday for a two-game trip that stops in Ottawa on Thursday night and Boston on Saturday afternoon.

Power vs. Power: One-tenth of a percent separated the league’s top two power plays entering Tuesday’s game—22.3 percent for Vancouver, 22.2 percent for Nashville—and that turned out to be a pretty good indicator of their relative strength during the match. The Predators gave the Canucks only one chance with the man advantage, but Vancouver made it count within 30 seconds. On the other hand, based strictly on the scoresheet, Nashville’s 0-for-4 ratio on the power play looked unproductive by comparison. In reality, though, the home side created numerous quality chances while enjoying four manpower advantages. Eleven of Nashville’s 40 shots came on the power play, including a Colin Wilson chance that seemed a sure thing before goaltender Roberto Luongo’s flailing arm and leg rose to stop it midway through the second period.

Production Line: The line of Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat scored both second-period goals for Nashville, erasing Vancouver’s 3-1 lead in just a 1:02 span. Mike Fisher, who now leads the team in goals with his tally Tuesday, has 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists) in the last 16 games. Similarly, linemate Sergei Kostitsyn has 15 points (9 goals, 6 assists) in his last 16 games and continues to lead the NHL in shooting percentage (25.4 percent). Team scoring leader Martin Erat’s assist on Kostitsyn's goal gives him 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) in his last 14 outings.

Back to Front: Vancouver twice exploited Nashville’s defensive structure Tuesday by working from “Gretzky’s office,” that area directly behind the net where Wayne Gretzky famously generated so many scoring plays. The Canucks’ first and third goals resulted from players sending the puck out front from behind the goal line: Alexander Burrows finding Ryan Kesler in the right circle for a one-timer to make it 1-0, and Byron Bitz feeding Daniel Sedin in the low slot to make it 3-1.

Mike Fisher (on the team's success in comebacks): "When we get down, we know how good Pekka can be. He can shut the door, and we just seem to be able to relax and play; we try to chip away and we never give up. It would have been nice to get that one but that’s a good hockey team."

Pekka Rinne (on getting stronger as the game progressed): "I just trust myself and play with confidence. It’s just one game but obviously it’s a huge game. In the first period when you go down 3-1 you can’t feel sorry for yourself. You just come back, do your job and try to help your team and that’s what we all did."

Trotz (on the goaltender match-up): "Both are great goaltenders – Roberto with Vancouver, and Pekka with us – so you see teams going to the net hard. Both teams are pretty good offensively, and can create off of different elements of the game in the offensive zone – off the rush, use some of the cycle techniques, the back of the net, some interchanges – all of those things that can create some offense. They both battled for pucks and made some great saves. They were testing each other and showing off to each other – 'I make one; you make one.'"

F, Byron Bitz (VAN): 1 goal, 1 assist, +2
F, Henrik Sedin (VAN): 2 assists, +1
F, Colin Wilson (NSH): 1 goal, +1

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