Four games: two goals. Four games: zero wins. Four games: four losses. The last four games have been nothing short of disastrous for Nashville and a matchup with the defending-Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks didn’t seem like the recipe to end the team’s woes by any stretch of the imagination.
Not only have the last four contests represented a four-game losing streak for the Predators, but the team has been so far from winning any of the contests that fans and media have called for firing the coaching staff, shaking up the roster and even flat out giving up for the rest of the season. Yesterday’s 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins finally was the end of Nashville’s monster, 17-day, seven-game road trip, but it offered little else, as the Preds were set to face another tough opponent the very next night. Few, if anyone, gave Nashville a chance at scoring a goal tonight, let alone winning. And for good reason. In the last four games, the Predators had lost double the number of regulation games the Blackhawks had lost the entire season.
But win the Predators did. And by an incredible margin.
Finally, finally, finally, all the bounces, cross-crease passes, and shots off the posts went Nashville’s way tonight. Recently, if there’s been one thing you could count on in a Nashville Predators hockey game, it was that Nashville would feature the complete inability to score (I mean, two goals in four games? That almost doesn’t even seem possible).
Tonight at home (finally!), Matt Cullen opened the scoring for Nashville early in the game by stretching to poke in a juicy rebound left by Nikolai Khabibulin. The Preds weren’t done either (per usual) as less than a minute later, Nick Spaling sniped a wrister high glove off the rush and just eight minutes into the first period, Nashville had equaled their goal total from the previous four games. The Preds looked like the hungrier team throughout the first period and certainly didn’t appear to be a squad coming off a loss the previous night or a seven-game road trip.
A 2-0 lead would have been enough to celebrate after the way the last four games have gone, but Nashville had another surprise tonight, in addition to the offensive explosion.
Rookie goaltender Marek Mazanec, playing in just his fourth NHL game (and second in two nights), came to play tonight. He looked a lot more confident than Carter Hutton had in several of his starts during the road trip and succesfully tracked the puck and looked far from intimidated against a stacked Blackhawks lineup.
With Mazanec giving the Preds the confidence on the back end they’ve needed so desperately since Pekka Rinne went down with an injury, Nashville was able to push their advantage and capitalize on a Chicago team that didn’t look like themselves tonight.
The power play also made an appearance tonight as Patric Hornqvist gave the Preds a three-goal lead, tipping Roman Josi‘s point shot past Corey Crawford (the Hawks starting goalie who was supposed to get the night off in preparation for tomorrow’s game, but was forced to enter the contest after Khabibulin left in the first with what appeared to be a groin pull).
A terrible Hawks turnover in their own zone led to the game becoming 4-0 Nashville late in the second period. But credit Cullen for making a nice dish to Craig Smith who made a smooth (and patient) move to the backhand before depositing it in the net. Chicago showed they had a pulse a few seconds later when Patrick Kane blew a shot past Mazanec, but even with that tally, the Preds went to the dressing room for the second intermission with a 4-1 lead.
The third represented a lot more of the same for the two teams as Nashville added another power play goal and two more scores from Mike Fisher and Viktor Stalberg to win the game, 7 to 2. Yes, that’s seven goals for Nashville and two for Chicago.
Tonight was just one of those games were a team takes all of their frustrations out on another squad and as funny as it seems to say, there was little Chicago could do to stop Nashville tonight. Even when Brandon Pirri‘s goal cut Nashville’s lead to 4-2, Stalberg answered just 15 seconds later, as if to say, “Didn’t you get the message? This is our game tonight.”
I don’t want to overhype this win too much. Sometimes things just go right, like they go wrong some games. But hopefully this contest gives a much needed boost of confidence to a team that couldn’t have felt very good about themselves. If anything, this win represents that Nashville isn’t an AHL-quality team like some have begun to believe, and they seriously may have found their stopgap in net until Rinne returns.
(I will also note that tonight’s recap is my long-awaited return from the land of no-writing, so pretty much I’m the reason we broke the streak tonight. You heard me, Scott…OK, just kidding) But anyway, enjoy a win, a big one at that. Yes, this is what winning feels like.
The Preds get to enjoy this feeling until Tuesday night when they are back on the road to face a very familiar opponent–the Detroit Red Wings.