Before the madness of the Stanley Cup Playoffs grips us all, I thought I'd poll the Nashville hockey writing community on the stories which will stand out when we look back on this 2011-2012 Predators season. This series will celebrate events on and off the ice, some momentous, some just plain silly. I hope you enjoy them. Today's selection: The Preds' unlikely 4-3 victory at Columbus on December 8. This game was so noteworthy that it was chosen by Mark at The View From 111, Ryan of Smashville 24/7, and Amanda of Inside Smashville.
In the opening weeks of the season, there was reason for concern about the Nashville Predators. They were getting outplayed on a consistent basis, and some of the younger players were getting exposed in roles that perhaps they weren't quite suited to yet.
For 57 minutes or so, the Preds' December 8 game at Columbus looked like another stinker in the making. Coming into the contest with an underwhelming 12-11-4 record (11th place in the West at the time), Nashville coughed up an early lead, then saw their comeback attempt foiled as they allowed Derek Dorsett to slice through their defense and give the Jackets a 3-1 lead in the 3rd period.
But oh, how those final few moments turned things around...
Ryan Porth of Smashville 24/7 and Amanda DiPaolo of Inside Smashville had traveled to Columbus to cover this game as visiting press, and had to wonder if the effort was worth it. Here's an observation Ryan shared via email:
In the waning minutes ... I leaned over to Amanda DiPaolo in the press box and said "This isn't a playoff team." The Preds had looked horrible for the first 55 minutes or so, ready to lose their third game in a row in the midst of a stretch of inconsistent play. Two goals in the final 93 seconds and an overtime winner later, the Preds' season turned on a dime.
As we've seen so often both this season and last, a critical faceoff win, this time by Mike Fisher, led to the tying goal in the final seconds of the third:
"I got it back to Marty and Sutes and it went off a skate," said Fisher, who beat out Blue Jackets center Antoine Vermette on the draw. "Marty got it to the net and the puck found a way (to get in). That was an exciting way to come back."
"Big faceoff (win)," Head coach Barry Trotz said of Fisher's aforementioned faceoff win. "In the last two minutes there we had about five or six great chances, and it all started from the draw. (Fisher) bore down and got that one clean and we were able to do something with it."
Coming into tonight's game, Fisher boasted a 49.8 percentage in the faceoff dot. He pushed that percentage up to 51.8 after a great effort in the Preds' win.
Predators defenseman Ryan Suter joking said, "It's about time! We've been giving him (crap) all year for not winning faceoffs. He's always said ‘I only win them when they count.' Fish did a good job there."
--- Ryan Porth, Smashville 24/7
Memories of Game 5 against Anaheim in the playoffs, perhaps?
In the post-game media scrum, Amanda asked how large a factor team unity played:
"We trust each other," Hornqvist said after the game when asked what explained Nashville's ability to come from behind and win late in the game. "We have a great group of guys with a lot of great players. We just have to stick to our system, like we did today. It shows what kind of character there is in this room. We want to win so bad."
Head Coach Barry Trotz agrees, noting the resilient nature of the club. "I use that word a lot with our team. But today, they proved that they want to play. They want to do well. We have tightened up our game in a lot of areas but we haven't gotten any results. We are playing much better as a team. It can be really frustrating if you are playing really well as a team but aren't getting wins. You know, it is a bad break, or an untimely turn over."
"They have been working hard. They have been staying on point. They did it and got rewarded for it. I always tell the guys when it looks like you can't hang on anymore, that's when you are close to the goal. You just have to hang on longer than the other team. That's what they did tonight," Trotz said.
--- Amanda DiPaolo, Inside Smashville
Perhaps Mark at the View From 111 summed up the impact of the game best, writing at the time:
An improbable win?
A win that can turn the fortunes of a team?
Without a doubt.
--- Mark Willoughby, The View From 111
And as he followed with me via email...
To me, this game was a turning point in the season. It gave this young squad the confidence that they were not out of any game, and was the catalyst that seemed to cause the team to jell and start playing with confidence in their system and in each other. It was as if what the coaching staff had been telling them to that point in the season finally got through to them and they translated it into their play on the ice.
One game doesn't make a season, but one game can provide a seminal experience that can change the fortunes of a team. In my opinion, this game was just such an event.
Like I said earlier, Nashville was 12-11-4 going into that game (a points percentage of .518). Since then? 33-15-4 (.673). Games like this early in the season can do wonders for a coach's ability to sell his game plan and get guys to stick with it, through thick & thin.
Relive the highlights of this one, and check out that night's recaps from Smashville 24/7, Inside Smashville, and The View From 111. I'm just not sure which moment is most sad for the Blue Jackets fans watching on TV - the way their play-by-play man gleefully says "you know times are changing here in Columbus..." after the refs rule that Jeff Carter's opening goal was a good one, or the call on the Colin Wilson overtime winner, which was initially thought to be a save: