Nashville staked their spot in the playoffs with a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. Patric Hornqvist scored a pair of goals, while Pekka Rinne made 44 saves en route to victory. It was their 17th straight win over Columbus at home.
“We knew we held our own destiny,” said Steve Sullivan. “It’s great to finally walk in here with a win and know that we’re going to the playoffs. We want to be a team that’s going into the playoffs on the right foot.”
Sullivan returned to the lineup for his first action since Feb. 24. He logged 10:05 of ice-time and didn’t show much rust.
“He had some good energy and had some speed,” Coach Barry Trotz said.
Six minutes into the first period, Hornqvist’s 21st of the season got Nashville on the board first. Great individual efforts from Mike Fisher and Shea Weber set up the goal, which was a tap-in for Hornqvist. Just seconds before the Preds gained possession of the puck, Columbus’ R.J. Umberger hit the post on a wide-open cage.
At the beginning of the second, Matt Halischuk and Hornqvist scored 0:54 seconds apart to give the Preds a 3-0 lead. Halischuk converted on a semi-breakaway by way of a nice feed from Jerred Smithson, while Hornqvist’s backhander from the slot eluded Steve Mason.
With 5:08 remaining in the period, Blake Geoffrion dropped the gloves for the first time in his career; it was a decisive victory over Derek MacKenzie.
“It’s just one of those things that happen in the game of hockey,” Geoffrion said. “I’m just glad I didn’t lose!”
Rinne looked determined to not let anything past him on this night; but that changed when Derick Brassard’s slap-shot found the top corner with 1:28 to go in the second, cutting Nashville’s lead to 3-1. Columbus outshot the Preds 22-8 in the period and controlled the pace.
“We didn’t defend very well,” Trotz said of the period. “Our defensive coverage was just too anxious on everything and late on everything in certain situations. They were coming out way too easily and they were coming out with speed.”
The Preds sat on their two-goal lead for most of the third before Sergei Kostitsyn knocked in a rebound at the 12:25 mark to take a 4-1 lead. Hornqvist’s initial shot from the slot got through Mason to a wide-open Kostitsyn at the side of the net, where the puck bounced in off his leg and stick.
Bridgestone Arena took over from there, as the crowd gave the team their patented standing ovation during the second TV timeout of the third period. Nashville sailed to a 4-1 victory in the final minutes to officially punch their ticket to the postseason.
They finished the season with 12 of their final 15 games on home-ice, going 9-2-1 in those games.
“This group has been resilient all year,” Trotz said of making the playoffs. “Sometimes on long home stands things can get stale. I think our guys realized the magnitude of this stretch run.”
Trotz and company head to St. Louis on Saturday to try to claim home-ice in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
“We’ve got some unfinished business yet,” Trotz said. “Home ice has been an advantage for us this past month, so we’ll take it right now.”