How many times can a team in the middle of a desperate playoff chase keep coming back to pull out key wins? Well, just add tonight's game to Nashville's growing list, as Jason Arnott led the way once again in a thrilling 4-3 shootout victory on the road in Detroit, after trailing 3-1 midway through the third period.
Say what you want about these Nashville Predators, but one thing is certain: they just never give up.
The Preds fell behind 1-0 despite an early shooting advantage over Detroit (10-4 NSH for the period), when Niklas Kronwall blasted home a shot on the power play.
In the second, Scott Nichol played a hand in both tying the game, then giving the lead away again to Detroit. First, shortly after a Nashville power play ended, he took his time with a wrister and scored a nice goal to knot things up 1-1. Towards the end of the period, however, he delivered a cross-check to Valtteri Filppula after the whistle, an example of the hot-headedness that Nichol at times is prone to. What followed was a typical Red Wings power play goal; Tomas Holmstrom set a screen in front of the net while Nicklas Lidstrom blasted a slapshot high over Pekka Rinne's glove to send Detroit into the 2nd intermission with the 2-1 lead.
Things got even gloomier just minutes into the 3rd, when Johan Franzen snuck down from the point, took a pass as he came through the slot, and easily beat Rinne for a 3-1 Red Wings lead. Over the next several minutes, Detroit played their frustrating puck-control game to keep Nashville from getting many good chances. There was one interesting sequence where Cal O'Reilly set up behind the Detroit net for what seemed like ages while a scrum broke out in front, but nothing much came of it.
Usually the best approach to handling a finesse team like the Red Wings is to carry the play directly at them, and that's how Jason Arnott brought the Preds to within 3-2. He picked off a pass in the Detroit zone, drove straight towards the net, flubbed his initial shot but then banged home the rebound. The score, his 31st of the season, tied the club record for goals in a season.
The Preds work ethic paid off once again with just under a minute remaining in the third, with Rinne pulled for the extra attacker. Ryan Jones tried to the throw the puck in front, but it deflected to Joel Ward. He then sent a pass to Arnott in front of the Red Wing net, and the puck was batted home to tie the game. Credit for the goal was given to Ward, but don't be surprised to see that change overnight (note: it's already been changed to Dumont's goal). This marked only the second time all season that the Preds scored in the final minute with the goalie pulled, the other being February 12 against St. Louis.
Somehow, someway, the Preds had scratched and clawed their way into a position to win; the overtime featured some decent chances for each side, including a late power play for Nashville, but the five extra minutes expired without a result.
The shootout featured the same lineup that Barry Trotz used against Columbus last Saturday night, with similar results; Vern Fiddler went first, used the same move he always does (deke to a backhand high shot) and missed the net. Steve Sullivan then missed low the glove side. Detroit, meanwhile, failed on its first two attempts, before Jiri Hudler scored to put the pressure on Nashville to hang in. Ville Koistinen executed "the Fiddler move" perfectly, keeping the Preds alive and sending the shootout to Round 4, in which Pekka Rinne stopped Dan Cleary, leaving the chance to win the game for Jason Arnott.
He made the most of the opportunity, coming down the middle and snapping a quick shot through Osgood's 5-hole to win the game for Nashville, capping a tremendous comeback.
The win means that the Preds head into tomorrow night's game in Minnesota tied with St. Louis and Anaheim with 88 points. The Ducks and Blues each have two games remaining to Nashville's one, but a victory over the Wild tomorrow would require those two to keep earning points if they want to stop the Preds from a fifth-consecutive postseason.