Resiliency will win you a lot of games, and the Nashville Predators took that to another level as they beat the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.
The game between the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals featured one team with a lot to play for, and the other with virtually nothing. The Predators needed a win a to wrap up their first division title and claim the top seed in the Western Conference.
There was some serious pressure coming into this game with Winnipeg and Vegas nipping at their heels for the top spot in the conference. Home-ice advantage is an important commodity. This is especially true when you have a home crowd like the Predators enjoy. Getting across the finish line to wrap up the top seed is an important feat.
We can all exhale now that the Predators’ regular-season business is accomplished.
The Predators come out fast and aggressive at the start. A few minutes into the game the they draw a penalty to get on the power play. We know the power play has been lacking in recent memory. The Predators looked much sharper with the man advantage in this game. Craig Smith gets the Predators the huge first strike of the game by scooping up a rebound and beating Washington goaltender Philipp Grubauer. Smith is continuing what is turning out to be a career year:
Smith’s goal is vital because it takes some pressure off. This isn’t the type of game you want to be coming from behind in. The stakes are too high. A big reason the Predators are able to keep Washington from getting traction in the first period is a lot of blocked shots and passes. However, the Predators can’t extend the lead despite controlling most of the period.
Early in the second frame the Predators find their way back to the penalty box. This is a place they’re spending way too much time in for most of the season. Luckily, their top-ten penalty kill is bailing them out on most nights. Putting Washington on the power play is lethal due to one of the best in the business, Alex Ovechkin. Right on cue, Ovechkin beats Juuse Saros on a gorgeous wrist shot to knot the game at 1-1. His 47th goal of the season is tops in the NHL.
A big momentum shift occurs at this point in the game. It’s like the Predators didn’t expect the Capitals to punch back after falling behind. Here’s my reaction to the Predators’ play following the Ovechkin goal:
Shortly after Ovechkin’s tying goal, the Capitals tally another goal on the power play. Again, the Predators cannot keep taking bad penalties against powerful offensive teams. This goal is just an unlucky ricochet off of Ryan Ellis that Saros had no chance at. Things like this happen when you’re defending strong power play units. However, Saros keeps it from getting out of hand as Washington keeps the momentum, but are never able to make it a two-goal lead.
The period wraps up with Smith scoring another goal right in front of the net. This comes at a time when the Predators are just throwing pucks at the net and hoping something falls. Something does fall as they get the equalizer before the period ends. Heading to the second intermission tied instead of trailing is important.
Despite the tie score, I still felt the Capitals had the slight edge in momentum. Saros was having to work hard to keep the Predators from falling behind by multiple goals. We’re having a much different postgame conversation if the Predators let the deficit reach two goals.
The Predators did fall behind again as the Capitals scored on a backhander from Evgeny Kuznetsov, his second of the game. Mattias Ekholm simply gets beat by Kuznetsov’s speed. The play is nearly offside, but in slow motion, it was clearly onside. This is where some doubt starts to creep in. However, this team has shown the ability to make comebacks all season.
Roman Josi, the captain, ties it back up at 3-3 on a one-timer. The game gets quirky here as the announcers seem to blame it on a wardrobe malfunction for Grubauer. A messed up blade on his skate. You take goals any way you can, and this one comes near the midway point of the third period. The Predators are picking a good time to fix their power play woes as the playoffs approach.
In perfect fashion, Filip Forsberg ends up being the instrumental piece in the game-winning goal. He rushed the puck up the ice, which begins a sequence of shot attempts. It’s capped off by Ryan Johansen on a goal in similar fashion to Smith’s two goals. Throwing pucks at the net and looking for rebound opportunities ends up being what wins this for the Predators.
Two minutes of a Washington empty net gets dicey as the Capitals force Saros to make some clutch saves, which he does. We may not see Saros again until next season, so show the man some love for his awesome season behind Pekka Rinne. With this win, the Predators have the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy, division title and the top seed in the Western Conference.
Chad’s Three Stars
Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov
He may be on the losing team, but Kuznetsov’s three-point game deserves some props. His backhander to beat Saros was pinpoint perfect.
Second Star: Roman Josi
Josi plays like the captain that he is tonight with a power-play goal in the third period to tie the score back up. He also blocks four shots and adds on an assist.
First Star: Craig Smith
Who would’ve thought that Smith would be knocking on the door of leading the Predators in goals after just scoring 12 last season. He’s having a career-best kind of year on Kyle Turris‘ line.