Mar 25, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (6) is congratulated by his teammates for scoring a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during the third period at the United Center. The Predators beat the Blackhawks 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

Week in Review: "Toughing it Out"

When the schedule came out this past summer, March looks to be a tough nut to crack. This week stuck out like a sore thumb- 5 games in 8 days, 4 against the division, including two back-to-backs involving Chicago. How did this happen to where we drew Chicago twice on the second half of back-to-backs? It doesn’t matter now, but it’s interesting to ponder that. What does matter is that the Predators survived the toughest stretch of the season, and even after a tough loss last night, have to feel good about themselves.

Losing to Chicago also produced another product- now it’s a three way dance for the 4th (and 6th) spot. Not the worst thing in the world.

Coach Trotz was recorded earlier in the week as saying that the team was still coming together, and there was still some tinkering to be done with the lineup. Given the depth on the roster, the search was on for their playoff roster. Having been healthy scratched for the first time most of us could remember, Jordin Tootoo’s week started off rough when he was injured at the hands (and uppercut) of Brandon Bollig, and he would miss the pivotal St. Louis game. His open spot in the lineup would be filled by Colin Wilson, and mixed results.

TUESDAY
vs St. Louis Blues

Having beaten the Blues twice in regulation and twice in the shootout, the Blue wanted to salvage some confidence against a team that was definitely in their heads as of February. St. Louis was more physical, and didn’t hesitate skating the puck into the Nashville zone from the second period onward. Towards the third, it was tough to watch. The Blues finished every check, and imposed their will on Nashville. Alex Radulov got his first minor reality check of North American hockey, as the Blues stifled the Preds’ offense at every turn. A 3-0 shutout loss is not what the doctor ordered, and it vanquished any (un)realistic hopes left of catching the division leaders. Erat, Josi, and Tootoo were all out for this one, but it might not have mattered that much. Colin Wilson had a dreadful game, which could be attributed to rust. He’ll sit for most of the postseason, but could be called on if/when injuries happen. If you think this is cruel and unusual punishment, Tyler Seguin seems to have recovered just fine from this happening to him last year.

FRIDAY
vs Detroit Red Wings

Finally, both teams were healthy. Friday saw the return of Roman Josi, and both Martin Erat and Jordin Tootoo recovered in time for this tilt. The Wings also had Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk, and Nicklas Lidstrom back in their lineup, so the injury card couldn’t be played. For 30 minutes, it looked like another Central Division struggle, likely to be decided late in the game. Rinne was working hard, and Jimmy Howard looked pretty sharp himself. But after the halfway mark, the Preds flipped the switch. Gabriel Bourque started the scoring with a filthy wrister, Francis Boullion chipped in a rebound amid some chaos around the crease, and Alex Radulov infuriated all wearing red with a textbook goal courtesy of Andrei Kostitsyn. 4-1 win after a garbage time goal for Detroit and an empty netter. The highlight of the night? Pekka Rinne, folks:

You mad? You mad.

SATURDAY
vs Chicago Blackhawks

Nashville didn’t wake up until the second, down 4-0 after two power play markers, a goal off of Rinne’s back, and Patrick Kane on a breakaway (with very little help from Francis Boullion). But then like a thunderstorm, the Preds’ power play woke the building up by way of Martin Erat’s shot (which he should use more often, he’s been scoring more from distance), then Shea Weber’s wrister. The third period suddenly became more manageable. Then… this happened.

If you were wondering why this guy was such a big deal, and why Poile tried so hard to get him back, and why Blues and Wings fans were so angry about his return, this could help you understand.

Minutes later, Captain Weber steps into a shot that was only heard, and not seen. Andrei Kostitsyn still thought it was a live puck until he heard the horn. We were tied at 4-4, until minutes later when Brent Seabrook slipped past David Legwand to put the Hawks up for good, 5-4.

How mad can you be? Not very mad given the circumstances.

The Takeaway

We have a mess on our hands in figuring out where our team will land in the standings as of next weekend. Of the three, Nashville has the easiest draw, arguably.

Nashville
Minnesota (Home), Dallas (Home), Colorado (Road)

Detroit
Florida (Home), St. Louis (Road), New Jersey (Home), Chicago (Home)

Chicago
Minnesota (Home), Minnesota (Road), Detroit (Road)

Even with Chicago on this surge, I would still prefer to see them in the first round than Detroit, but by a slim margin. Neither team is overly physical, but Chicago gets decent goaltending from Corey Crawford while Detroit gets good consistent goaltending from Jimmy Howard. Plus, Detroit has mastered the art of drawing penalties in the playoffs. While Rinne has been stellar in his career against Detroit, they’re the deeper team. What this weekend  proved is that Nashville is capable of scoring on both teams, and can give Rinne some breathing room. Alex Radulov, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Martin Erat are more than a handful on most nights, and if the penalty kill is working, the Preds can take these guys.

Looking Ahead

As of now, the Kings are leading the Pacific. As stated before, I want NO part of the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. They’re big, they play defense, and Jonathan Quick is a 4’x8′ sheet of plywood in the net. Of all the teams in the West, the Kings have the best recipe to beat Nashville. Losing to Chicago lifts them up to possibly take home ice away from both Nashville and Detroit- without Keith and Toews. And two tilts against the Wild may help their cause. Detroit seems to have the tougher road, playing a desperate Florida team, a Blues team racing to clinch the #1 spot, a Devils team that’s pretty locked in at #6 in the East, and hosting Chicago. The game to watch will now be Saturday’s at the Joe, with possibly the loser being rewarded with a first round against San Jose or Phoenix, or punished with a trip to Dallas or Los Angeles.

 

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