Pekka Rinne turned aside 29 of 31 San Jose shots, and Greg Zanon scored his first career game-winning goal as the Predators came back from a 2-0 second period deficit with three unanswered goals to beat the Sharks 3-2. To say this was a big win is an understatement, as San Jose has traditionally given Nashville fits, and the Preds came in without their top two centers, Jason Arnott and David Legwand. Rookie Cal O'Reilly was pressed into top-line duty upon being called up from Milwaukee, and pretty much everyone on the roster was asked to step up in one manner or another.
It appeared early on that perhaps some of the pressure of the playoff race might get to some of the Preds. San Jose took the 1-0 lead with a goal by Joe Pavelski late in the first, and extended it to 2-0 on a power play that came when Jordin Tootoo took an unnecessary penalty after an extended verbal match with Jody Shelley. With the thin ranks up front, a 2-0 deficit to the top team in the NHL looked like a sure recipe for disaster.
For Preds fans, there was one aspect of that initial Sharks goal worth pointing out (look for it in the video at the bottom in the opening seconds). Most of the San Jose PP group rushed up to the Nashville blueline then slammed to a quick halt; the puck was then dropped to a hard-charging late man who carried the puck deep into the zone, taking advantage of a PK unit that holds up momentarily. Don Cherry pointed out this tactic being used by Buffalo's Lindy Ruff (it comes around the 2:20 mark of the February 7 Coach's Corner), and it sure would be nice to see innovation like that applied to Nashville's traditionally under-performing power play.
From there on, however, came a complete reversal of fortune. On a Nashville power play, Shea Weber fed a crossing pass to Radek Bonk, who backhanded it up high past Nabokov to draw the Preds within a goal. A couple minutes later, Steve Sullivan took the puck deep behind the Sharks net, then fed Martin Erat off to the side for a quick shot that dribbled through to tie the game.
As if that wasn't enough to get the crowd pumped up, another goal just 39 seconds later, by Greg Zanon of all people (his first since January 8) had them going crazy. A seeing-eye slapper from up high put the Preds ahead, and from there on it was a matter of continuing to apply pressure and holding off a late San Jose power play. Throughout the game, the line of Bonk, Tootoo and Smithson drew the assignment to shut down Joe Thornton, and did a great job (despite Smithison missing a wide-open scoring chance at one point while the Preds were still behind).
The win momentarily lifts Nashville back into 8th spot in the West, pending a late game between Edmonton and Phoenix. Regardless of how tonight's scores come out, however, this is a 2-point bonus that most observers would not have given the Preds based on their remaining schedule, and represents a major victory in the ongoing war to make their 5th-straight postseason appearance.