If you saw this game on the schedule back in October, you probably thought it would be one of those marginally interesting inter-conference games that are like speed bumps in the quickening playoff race. A good Central division team that couldn't get over the Detroit hump against a young Penguins squad that would be, hopefully, within reach of the 8th seed in the East.
Fast forward to game day. The Nashville Predators, with a 37-14-3 record, are atop the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins are quickly climbing the Eastern conference standings, holding the 6th seed on the strength of an 8-0-2 run. Instead of a snoozer, we got an opportunity to see just how good the Penguins really are.
The Penguins had the territorial and shot-on-goal advantage (10-5) in the first period, but couldn't solve Chris Mason. Things started to look bad when, late in the period, Scott Nichol, unmarked on top of the crease, deflected a Sheldon Brookbank slapshot over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder to give the Preds a 1-0 lead.
Nashville used that momentum to their advantage to start the second, but Darcy Hordichuk got a little too energetic. For some reason, he decided to go headhunting, and chose Alain Nasreddine as his target. Nas dipped and dived away from Hordichuk's first attempt at boarding, but couldn't dodge the second try. As he circled behind his own net, Nas got wallpapered. To Hordichuk's credit, he immediately turned around to see which Penguin would race to Nasreddine's defense. Never bet against Maxime Talbot in a race. He literally beat Rob Scuderi to the punch. (Note to Sheldon Souray: This is how you defend a teammate! You don't jump on an opponent from behind as he's skating away.)
Talbot and Hordichuk got five each for fighting, and the Pens got their wake-up call. Less than three minutes later, Jordan Staal carried into the zone, skated to the top of the left circle, and sniped the far corner over Mason's shoulder to tie the game at 1-1. Less than three minutes after that, on a power play, a Sidney Crosby slapshot was blocked at the point, but came right to Mark Recchi at the left half-boards. Rex found Evgeni Malkin sneaking in the back door, and made a perfect one-timer pass. Malkin buried it from the right slot, it's 2-1 Pens, and the Preds are reeling. The rest of the second was a defensive struggle, with both teams collapsing around their goaltenders.
The third started in a stalemate, with a lot of back-and-forth in the neutral zone, but not many scoring chan– GOAL! Mark Recchi carried one of those takeaways up the right wing boards and toasted Mason with an innocent-looking wrist shot. Remember when it was Penguin goalies giving up those back-breaking soft goals?
From there, it wasn't the Marc-Andre Fleury Show. It didn't have to be. Instead of falling back into an over-cautious passive defense, the Pens stayed aggressive and kept Nashville from getting any offensive flow going. Jarkko Ruutu continued his goal-scoring binge with an empty-netter, Elvis' limo pulls away, and the Pens move into 5th place in the East.
Final Score: Penguins 4, Predators 1, wind chill in the Student Rush line: -4F. (Which is why Mellon Arena was 600 short of a sellout.)
- Marc-Andre Fleury (25 of 26)
- Sidney Crosby (2A)
- Jordan Staal (1G)