The Nashville Predators took a huge step towards qualifying for the playoffs tonight, beating the Atlanta Thrashers by a 6-3 score that wasn't quite as close as it seemed towards the end of the game. The Preds played well at both ends of the ice for the majority of the evening, and the results were there. Nashville is up to 97 points, which, while it isn't yet official, will more than likely get them into the dance.
Jordin Tootoo and Sergei Kostitsyn (extending his point streak to 10) both had two goals and an assist, while Matt Halischuk and Mike Fisher picked up the other markers for Nashville. Pekka Rinne made 33 saves in the win.
Reaction, video highlights, full statistics, and audio clips to be added later can be found after the jump.
Ten thoughts on tonight's game:
- Matt Halischuk is widely expected to be returned to the Milwaukee Admirals should Cal O`Reilly or Steve Sullivan return to the lineup, and perhaps with good reason. If he continues to make an impact like he has the past few games, though, that decision will be slightly tougher. Jordin Tootoo put a shot on Chris Mason, and the rebound bounced out to Halischuk - who was facing Pekka Rinne. A slick spin and quick backhand later and the puck was in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead, but "Hustlechuk" wasn't through - he provided the primary assist on Tootoo's second goal, an excellent feed from behind the net.
- Speaking of Jordin Tootoo, he certainly appeared to be feeling alright, didn't he? With two goals and an assist, the Preds' resident sparkplug contributed to getting Nashville's grinding line on the scoresheet in a big way. Number 22's 2nd goal came in the 2nd period and was the first 2 goal game of his career.
- This was unequivocally the best game of Tootoo's career, so it's only fair that he gets 2 bullets. In addition to notching three points, Toots spent the evening enraging Thrashers' enforcer Eric Boulton, so much so that Boulton was ejected when he tried to instigate a confrontation but Tootoo wouldn't engage. When Tootoo is drawing penalties, there are few better agitators in the NHL.
- The Preds have made a habit of starting games well, but have shown an alarming tendency to fall asleep at the wheel for the final twenty or forty minutes of a given contest. Tonight, though, that wasn't always the case - Nashville kept the pedal down for two periods, which might not signify "lesson learned", but it was an improvement. Of course, going from 5-0 to 6-3 isn't the greatest of ideas.
- Pekka Rinne deserved better than he got, because he played much better in net than the score might suggest. In what is becoming old hat, the "Eraser" dominated the opposition, and the Predators won. Sounds like an MVP to me.
- Nashville spent a fair amount of time on the power play this evening, and the man advantage looked even better than it did against Detroit. There was a significant amount of player movement, and the passing was fairly crisp. In particular, Mike Fisher's PP marker was a thing of absolute beauty. Worthy of some body art, even.
- With a two goal game tonight, Sergei Kostitsyn upped his total on the year to 22. In some ways, it's reminiscent of last season's Patric Hornqvist - young forward breaks out in a big way and presents the front office with a difficult decision, not necessarily on whether or not to re-sign him, but for how much. Either way, Kostitsyn should stick around.
- I've been critical of Colin Wilson's effort level, so it's only fair that I give credit where it's due. Wilson took exception to getting shoved face-first into the boards by Ben Maxwell, and pretty much dominated the ensuing fight. Willy has acquitted himself rather well with the gloves off in his career, and the display of fire was refreshing.
- You'll hear many folks complain that the Predators might only finish with one twenty goal scorer, but I'm pretty content with Kostitsyn at 22, Hornqvist at 19, Fisher at 18, Martin Erat and David Legwand at 17, and Shea Weber and Colin Wilson with 16. Say what you will, but the depth will prove useful during the playoffs.
- A rather subtle side note to the win: the Preds only won 48% of their faceoffs tonight, and that against a team who usually struggles on the dot. As Dirk discussed earlier, that simply won't cut it.
And so, it's an almost three day wait until Columbus comes to town, likely bent on ruining whatever plans the Predators have of a higher seed. Tonight's win was good, certainly, but the Blue Jackets are in need of a thorough beating - quite similar to the one that was put on the Thrashers tonight at 501 Broadway.