Even after a crucial 5-4 win (their fifth straight overall) over a team they are battling with in the Western Conference, Coach Barry Trotz and the Predators weren’t pleased with the manner they wrapped up the two points against Anaheim on Thursday night.
The Preds had five different players tally two points – including Sergei Kostitsyn’s two goals – but had trouble holding onto 3-0 and 5-1 leads.
After taking a four-goal lead midway through the third, Shane O’Brien and company had to hang on for their lives to win by just one.
“It was a little sloppy,” a frustrated O’Brien said after the game. “If anything, I probably feel more worse for Peks. He plays his guts out every night for us and we kind of let up a little bit. We found a way to get it done. That’s what it’s about this time of year – it wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take the two points.”
Nashville started the game on fire yet again as they chased Jonas Hiller 11:37 into the game by swarming the Ducks’ net to take an early 3-0 lead. Kostitsyn scored two ‘dirty-area’ goals, pushing his total to 19 on the season. Nick Spaling also chipped in by pouncing on Jonathon Blum’s rebound off the end boards. Hiller, who was making his first start in 16 games due to vertigo, was pulled in favor ex-Predator Dan Ellis, who heard a chorus of boos.
For the rest of the period, the momentum was on Anaheim’s side. After killing off a penalty, Corey Perry netted his 41st of the season at 16:01. The goal was followed by a Ducks power play in which they made a surge, but Pekka Rinne was up to the task.
“We got the third goal and we stopped doing what we did,” Trotz said. “I thought we were absolutely atrocious defensively in the last ten minutes of the first.”
The Ducks sustained some more pressure in the Preds’ zone throughout the second, but they didn’t get many quality chances. Nashville capitalized when Jordin Tootoo slapped a loose puck past Ellis to go up 4-1 with 1:40 to go in the period.
“It was good that Toots got one,” Trotz said. “We need contributions from everybody and that was a big goal for us. 3-1 and a two-goal lead and you go into the locker room; it was sort of late in the period. To be up 4-1, obviously it gave us a lot of breathing room.”
The goal was Tootoo’s first since last month’s return from the NHLPA’s substance abuse program.
“It’s been a while since I scored,” Tootoo said, “so it’s nice to get the monkey off my back.”
“Toots has had some chances lately,” O’Brien said. “He’s been playing really well. He’s come back and worked extremely lately. I was happy for him – to see that smile on his face… that’s what it’s all about.”
The final minutes of the game were about as bizarre as it can get. David Legwand potted a shorthanded goal with a pinpoint wrister 9:29 into the third to extend the lead to 5-1. On the play, Joel Ward barreled into Ellis; the goal counted, but Ward received a roughing penalty.
But, as they have done regularly over the last few weeks, the Ducks made things interesting in the end.
Ten seconds following Legwand’s goal, Teemu Selanne responded with a five-on-three power play goal. Later on in the period, Selanne scored again on a two-man advantage to draw the Ducks within two at 5-3.
Ellis was pulled with three minutes remaining, as a last-ditch/desperate effort to tie the game and steal a point. Legwand passed up two great opportunities at the open cage, trying to give Kostitsyn the hat trick goal. The decision to do so backfired.
“It’s not the time of the year or the team you want to do that against,” Trotz said of Legwand trying to feed Kostitsyn with the empty net. “That’s what really frustrated me. We’ve got to manage the game. The game was still in a little bit of doubt.
“I said to the guys ‘I understand and I compliment you for trying to get Sergei his hat trick, but at the same time, wrong time, wrong part of the season to do it. All the personal stuff are out the window. We go for the win. We can’t let a team off the hook.’”
Well they just about let the Ducks off the hook. Perry’s second of the night made it a 5-4 game with 26 seconds remaining when his shot was accidentally kicked in out of mid-air by Ryan Suter.
“I wish he would have used his hand,” Trotz said of Suter. “It was a helluva kick, though.”
Trotz’s crew held on for the victory, though, as Anaheim failed to threaten in the final seconds, but it wasn’t the way he wanted to finish off a big win.
“It was all stuff that we did,” Trotz said. “It was taking penalties, it was not managing the puck. There’s a time to be selfish and there’s a time to be correct in what you want to do. We didn’t do that in the third period.”
The Preds have had a bad habit of letting leads slip away in the past, and this one was another close-call that shouldn’t have gotten to that point.
“If we don’t learn from that,” Trotz said. “I don’t know when we are. It should be managed much better and that was the message after the game. I’m happy we got the two points, but I’m not happy the way we mismanaged the third period.”
Nashville, who jumped to sixth in the West with the victory, will close out their important week with an equally vital tilt on Saturday at home against the ninth place Dallas Stars.