Afternoon games are never easy for hockey players. And when you watch day games and compare them to night games, you can certainly see why.
Today wasn't any different as the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators played, up to date, the most important game of both club's seasons. Take one look at the standings and you'll see these two teams are firmly entrenched in the middle of a battle for but a handful of playoff spots.
But if you didn't know that watching the first 10 minutes of the first period, you would have sworn you were watching the Oilers and Islanders play out the string.
And the broadcast today was about as smooth as the game itself as those watching on FSSW found out.
After the jump we'll have further analysis
Things eventually got ramped up for both teams, but it obviously took awhile to get to the boiling point at the end. Before it did, Tom Wandell hit twine for the first time since December 16th against San Jose to give the Stars a 1-0 lead through Pekka Rinne's five hole.
Then the second period came and with it, came the broadcast issues on FSSW as the audio made it sound like Ralph and Razor were broadcasting the game on a CB radio and the Stars video feed went down. Thankfully, FS Tennessee was broadcasting this game as well back to Nashville so the FSSW crew applied a nice workaround by diverting to their feed.
On the ice, the Stars had their issues as well. Through the first 14 minutes of the second period, the Stars play lulled to the point that they only had a Toby Petersen shot at the 4:21 mark to show for their efforts. Shortly after that shot, the Predators tied the game when Ryan Suter was allowed to waltz into the slot, let go a shot that Kari Lehtonen left a buxom rebound on for the 2010 US Olympian to gather up and snap into the net to Lehtonen's right.
Then Nashville took the lead off an even bigger rebound when Cody Franson let loose with a shot from the top of the faceoff dot that Lehtonen redirected back into the slot. Colin Wilson beat Stephane Robidas to the loose puck and swatted it into the net to give Nashville a 2-1 lead and all the momentum.
Dallas had a chance later in the frame to tie the game up when consecutive penalties by Joel Ward and Nick Spaling gave the Stars a 5-on-3 for what looked like would be for the next 1:35. To be fair, the call on Spaling looked suspect at best. And when Mike Ribeiro lost the ensuing faceoff and Brenden Morrow hooked onto David Legwand, who assisted on the Predators first goal of the day, the refs saw their chance to call an even upper and it took the Stars off the two man advantage.
Dallas still had a 4-on-3 to work with but, and stop me if you've heard us say this before, could do nothing on the power play and the Predators took a 2-1 lead into the third period.
Normally, going into the third period trailing against Nashville is a deadly proposition. But this year, and particularly against the Central Division, that challenge has amounted to basically nothing for the Stars.
They came from behind and won at St. Louis after Thanksgiving, they came from behind and won at Detroit in December, they fell behind to the Predators in Nashville later that month only to rip off three unanswered third period goals to win 4-2 on December 28th, and 15 days ago, they rallied from a 3-0 deficit to the Chicago Blackhawks to beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in a shootout.
And behind newly acquired defenseman Alex Goligoski, they rallied against another Central Division opponent, again.
Though it wasn't pretty.
With just over 14 minutes left, Goligoski took a feed at his own blue line and carried the puck into the Nashville zone where the Predators already had three players back. So Goose slammed on the brakes, surveyed his options, and let a wrist shot go that may have hit Jonathon Blum on the way in. Rinne, who had robbed Jamie Langenbrunner at the end of the second period to preserve the Nashville lead, was deep in his net and badly misplayed the shot that took a bounce off the ice and took left turn into the net.
Buoyed by that goal, the Stars took it to the Predators over the next several minutes, earning a couple of power plays thanks to the elbow of Jerred Smithson, which was to have adjudged to have interfered with Tom Wandell at center ice. Dallas couldn't do anything on this power play.
But then Shea Weber nailed Tomas Vincour behind the Predator net and was hit with a boarding minor. Why it wasn't a major? Well, I'll hit on that in a bit.
What was of more importance to the Stars is that they needed to cash in. And they did as Goligoski picked up the puck in his own zone, quickly moved it to Loui Eriksson who fed it to Brenden Morrow who carried the puck into the zone. Morrow then dropped the puck off back to Goligoski who noticed Eriksson slipping past Ryan Suter. Goligoski cooly fed a wide open Eriksson the puck and he redirected it past Rinne for what would turn out to be the game winner.
And at the moment, Joe Nieuwendyk didn't look nearly like the fool that much of the hockey media and blogosphere made him out to be earlier in the week.
Again, I'll reiterate that time will be the ultimate judge of the deal.
But in case you're scoring at home, Goligoski picked up his 2nd and 3rd points since joining the Stars. James Neal and Matt Niskanen are still looking for their first as Pens.
- I'm still at a loss how Shea Weber didn't get tossed out of the game with what was called a two minute boarding minor. I love the way Weber plays and to be sure, he's not who I'd call a dirty player. But that was a dangerous hit on Vincour and he should have been given five and a game for it.
- Colin Wilson is threatening to become a Stars killer in the mold of Steven Reinprecht. His 2nd period goal was the third goal this season he's scored against Dallas.
- Also, last time for awhile I promise to reference the James Neal trade. But in the last three games since he returned, Jamie Benn has yet to score a goal and only has an assist on Krys Barch's goal Thursday night in Detroit to show for his efforts. Yet, it seems like every time he steps on the ice, he's making an impact and it's by primarily driving to the net. During the pre-game, Craig Ludwig pointed out that Neal would still be here if he drove the net like Benn does. Just wanted to point out the difference between a goal-less Neal game and a goal-less Benn game.
Defending Big D Three Stars
3. Kari Lehtonen (DAL) - Had a rough second period with rebound control, but came up huge in the third after Eriksson gave the Stars the lead to ensure this one wouldn't go to OT.
2. Pekka Rinne (NSH) - Save for that Goligoski goal, he was brilliant in net for the Predators and it appeared he'd be in excellent position to help Nashville steal two points much the same way they did here back in October.
And he might have if not for..
1. Alex Goligoski (DAL) - How many times this season have we bemoaned the lack of a puck moving defenseman? Well, it's no coincidence that Goose started both plays that ended in the game tying and game winning goals in the third by quickly moving the puck up the ice.