By Amanda DiPaolo
The Nashville Predators earned a playoff berth on Friday night when they hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets in their season home finale. The stumbling Blue Jackets were no match for a Predators squad that has surged down the stretch going 12-3-3 since the start of March.
“We have to work hard every night. It doesn’t matter who we play or if the other teams are out or not. We come to work every night, and we have great goaltending too. That’s important. It’s always nice to get it by yourself too–make the playoffs by yourself,” Patric Hornqvist said about clinching a playoff spot.
Hornqvist opened scoring for Nashville at the 6 minute mark of the first period. Mike Fisher broke through the Columbus defenders then won a one-on-one battle against Jared Boll for the puck. Fisher then push the puck ahead on goal and Hornqvist was there to put the Predators on the score sheet. Shea Weber picked up the other assist.
It was Hornqvist’s 20th goal of the season.
The Predators added two goals early in the middle frame. Matt Halischuk scored when he deked Steve Mason as he broke in all alone looking like a seasoned veteran at 1:48 of the second period. Hornqvist added his second goal of the game when he stole the puck from the Columbus defender in the offensive zone and backhanded the puck passed Mason.
With a 3-0 lead, Blake Geoffrion got into his first NHL fight against Derek Mackenzie. Geoffrion held his own and the crowd responded with a “Geoffrion” chant.
Derick Brassard put the Blue Jackets on the board late in the middle frame, but Nashville would have no problem containing Columbus, despite allowing 45 shots on goal.
Sergei Kostitsyn picked up his 23rd goal of the season at 12:25 into the third period. Hornqvist and Kevin Klein picked up assists. Going into the game, Kostitsyn was riding a 10-game point streak. Now at 11, Kostitsyn has 15 points including 7 goals and 8 assists. The streak started on March 17th against the Boston Bruins.
Martin Erat missed the game, but was replaced in the lineup by Steve Sullivan who had been out with a groin injury. Sullivan saw 10:05 of ice time.
“It takes more than you think,” Sullivan said about getting back into the swing of things. “Those boys are fast and in great shape. It may not be the legs or the lungs, but it’s the hands, it’s the vision, the timing of everything. It takes a little while. I’m glad to get that one under. Hopefully, go in the morning again and get a little bit better every game I play,” he said.
Rinne’s 44 saves helps improve his case for the Vezina trophy. “It’s just one of those nights,” Rinne said, adding, “Tonight, they shot everything, and you have to give some credit to that team. They played pretty well, but I think, for the most part, guys kept them outside. I was able to make the sames tonight, so I was, obviously pretty happy.”
Lost in the celebration is that the Predators now extend their home winning streak against the Blue Jackets to 17 games in a row.
Saturday, the Predators close out the regular season in St. Louis. Nashville has a chance at home ice advantage with a win Saturday. The other teams still in contention for fourth place are Los Angles and Phoenix.
Photo Credit: AP
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