Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI)
If there is such thing as a statement game this late in the season then the Nashville Predators delivered one Sunday night in Chicago.
Two points up on the Blackhawks heading into the showdown between the two Central Division foes, the Predators took care of a Chicago team that had been sizzling of late and has been particularly tough to beat at home all season.
Goals by Matt Halishchuk, Andrei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist gave the Predators a comfortable three-goal cushion through two periods of play. They would then tack on three more in the third, the fourth chasing the previously red-hot Corey Crawford out of the crease en route to a dominating 6-1 victory.
A two-win weekend was just what the doctor ordered after their weekday schedule included ugly losses to Edmonton and Pittsburgh. Last night’s win along with Saturday night’s home triumph over the Winnipeg Jets has put Nashville one point ahead of Detroit for fourth-place in the Western Conference standings, and in a good position heading towards the final two weeks of the season.
Although the Red Wings now hold a game in hand, the Predators need not become scoreboard watchers as their first-round playoff fate still rests comfortably in their own hands, a fact their head coach echoed after last night’s win.
“I liked our response to anything that happened in the game,” Predators’ head coach Barry Trotz told the Associated Press. “We got good efforts from everybody, from the goal out, we really did. The overall playoff picture probably doesn’t really matter to me right now. The most important thing is we’re going to focus on ourselves. We can’t worry about anything else.”
With each passing game, the club continues to adjust to the addition of Alexander Radulov, who has found the scoresheet in all three games he has played since re-joining the organization. The chemistry among the forward lines was at its best in last night’s six goal barrage, and is something the team will need to continue to receive as they embark on what will likely be the biggest three-game stretch of their season.
The upcoming week of action sees the Predators make a stop in St. Louis to face the league-leading Blues on Tuesday, followed by monumental weekend games against Detroit and Chicago.
Central Division Notes
Chicago Blackhawks – Marian Hossa might be the Blackhawks MVP this season but if last night’s game was any indication, Duncan Keith is the one player they simply cannot replace. The club looked lifeless in the absence of the superb puck-moving rearguard who served the first of a five-game suspension handed down for his elbow on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin. Unbeaten in their previous five games, the 6-1 loss to Nashville dealt Chicago a major blow in their quest for home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Now three points back of fifth-place Detroit and four behind fourth-place Nashville, the club will look to get back on track in New Jersey on Tuesday night, before returning home to face the Blues on Thursday.
Columbus Blue Jackets – The Blue Jackets put forth a porous defensive effort in front of the home fans Sunday afternoon in a 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Mark Letestu opened the scoring with his 10th of the year but Steve Mason was beaten five times in the span of eight minutes in the second frame. Picking up a split in their two weekend games, Columbus now faces a tough home-and-home against the Red Wings starting tonight in Detroit. The loss to the Oilers assures the Blue Jackets of drafting no lower than second overall at the 2012 NHL Draft.
Detroit Red Wings – Nicklas Lidstrom returned to the lineup on Saturday night, and although the club yielded four goals, his impact was obvious. Lidstrom played 20 minutes and picked up an assist as the Red Wings erased a three-goal deficit in the second period to defeat the visiting Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 5-4. It wasn’t the prettiest way to end their six-game skid but it was a vitally important two points nonetheless. Detroit will look to keep pace with Nashville in the battle for fourth in the West tonight at home against the Blue Jackets, followed by a return match in Columbus on Wednesday.
St. Louis Blues – After being shut out in two of their past four games, the Blues picked up a much needed win last night in Phoenix. Early period power-play goals by Alex Pietrangelo in the second and David Backes in the third, along with a 20-save performance by Brian Elliott, led the Blues to the 4-0 shutout win. St. Louis now leads Vancouver by four points for first in the West and moved two points ahead of New York for first in the entire NHL. It wasn’t all good news, however, as Alex Steen, making his return from a concussion suffered in late December, looked woozy as he left the ice after taking a skate to the face in the dying minutes of last night’s game. One can only hope that the injury was not head-related and that Steen will be back in the line-up for Tuesday’s home game against Nashville, as well as their road meeting with Chicago on Thursday.