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Preds regain confidence for stretch run

by Doug Brumley / Nashville Predators

Photo by Andy Marlin
Predators goaltender Chris Mason: "We kind of got in a little funk there and we started feeling maybe a bit sorry for ourselves.... I think we kind of refocused and we feel great.

Thursday night's 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues was just what the doctor ordered for the Nashville Predators. After the team had lost three in a row, head coach Barry Trotz admitted that there was probably some doubt circling around the dressing room as the playoffs neared. If Friday's morning practice at Centennial Sportsplex was any indication, the team's confidence is back.

"When you play right and you play hard and you do the right things, it's amazing how that feeling generates energy," Trotz said of the loose bunch of players that was sharing laughs as Friday's practice wrapped up. "We had everybody contributing and we had a real solid game [Thursday] night."

"We had a great meeting [Wednesday] and I think it kind of rejuvenated a lot of guys," goaltender Chris Mason said Friday. "We kind of got in a little funk there and we started feeling maybe a bit sorry for ourselves. It's hard not to have self-doubt creep in as a team. I think we kind of refocused and we feel great. You can tell, we put in a solid game against one of the best teams in the last half of the year."

The manner in which the Predators won was just as important as the win itself. Nashville got off to a quick start, with David Legwand setting a franchise record for fastest goal from the start of a game when he tallied at the 11-second mark. The club built a 4-1 lead and held that margin to the end, killing off two full minutes of a 5-on-3 power play and defusing another one-man advantage down the stretch. And the players rallied around one another when the game became chippy in the latter half of the third period.

"The guys really stuck up for each other," Trotz said. "[St. Louis] took a couple cheap shots at Peter [Forsberg] and I like the fact that the guys stuck up for each other. That part I really commend our guys [for]. Even [forward Scott Hartnell, who was penalized for a gesture he made to the St. Louis bench], his whole intent was to let everybody know that 'Hey, you're not going to do that to a top player.'

"It was good. Guys stuck together, they battled. There was a lot of commitment in the game."

Now the Predators, who boarded a 2:00 p.m. charter Friday, close out the regular season Saturday night in Colorado against an Avalanche team that has been incredibly hot of late. The Avs are trying to claw their way into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games. Trotz and his players said that they like facing such a stiff challenge as their final preparation for the playoffs.

"Personally I love games like that," Mason said. "That's a preview of what it's going to be like. They're fighting for their lives right now and come playoffs, everybody is. I'm glad that we have a game like that to finish the season instead of one that means nothing for both teams. Nothing really good comes out of that. I'm glad that it's going to be a hard game. They've been the best team in the last month--them and Minnesota--so there's no better team to play than one like that."

Whether Mason will get the start Saturday remains a mystery. Trotz said Friday that a decision on a starter--Mason or teammate Tomas Vokoun--had not been made yet, but Trotz said in recent weeks that he would like to have both goalies in a rhythm by the beginning of the playoffs. Vokoun seems to have found a bit of a rhythm and should be confident on the heels of Thursday's victory. Mason, who has started just two of the last nine games, said he feels good and would like to start Saturday but will live with the coaches' decision.

"Obviously I don't think I've played as much as I would have liked to since the All Star Break, but the situation is they want to get Tomas going," said Mason, who put up impressive numbers during a stretch of 21 consecutive starts while Vokoun was sidelined with a hand injury. "I felt good in the last couple games I got to go out and play. I want to play every game just the same as any other goalie. If I do get to play, great. If not, I've just got to keep the same mindset in the playoffs and just be ready and support the guys and Tomas. If the team needs me I'll be ready to go in when I get called."


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