February 25 – Day 133 – The Predator becomes the prey

Although the scoring differential was a bit larger than I had predicted, the Boston Bruins did in fact beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in yesterday’s Game of the Day, by a score of 5-1.

The first and only goal of the first period came at the 16 minute mark, courtesy of a First Star of the Game David Pastrnak wrister.

The winner was another Pastrnak wrister, this time 3:12 after resuming play, his eighth tally of the season.  Only 55 seconds later, Tom Kuhnhackl earned a tip-in goal, assisted by Oskar Sundqvist and Trevor Daley (his 15th helper of the season), to get the differential back to a single score.  The 2-1 score held into the second intermission.

Although Boston already had the game-winning goal in their back pocket, it was really three goals in under five minutes in the third period that ended this game, the first of which was scored at the 10:34 mark courtesy of a Jimmy Hayes tip-in, assisted by Ryan Spooner (his 30th helper of the season) and Third Star Adam McQuaid.  The second of the period found the back of the net at the 14:26 mark with a Landon Ferraro snap shot, assisted by Dennis Seidenberg (his 10th helper of the season), followed 1:01 later by Brad Marchand’s wrister (his 31st goal of the season), assisted by Torey Krug and Patrice Bergeron.

Second Star Tuukka Rask earns the win after saving 41 of 42 shots faced (97.6%), while Marc-Andre Fleury takes the loss by saving 24 of 29 (82.8%).

After the second home in in a row, the homers have a 35 point lead over the roadies, as the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 60-31-12.

It’s an exciting Thursday in the NHL, with 10 games taking place.  The first two drop the puck at the usual starting time of 7 p.m. eastern (Minnesota at Philadelphia and New Jersey at Columbus), followed half an hour later by another couple of games (Carolina at Toronto and Arizona at Florida).  The third pairing of games drop the puck at the 8 p.m. eastern mark (the New York Rangers at St. Louis and Nashville at Chicago [NBCSN]).  The remaining four games all start by themselves, starting with Winnipeg at Dallas at 8:30 p.m. eastern, then the New York Islanders at Calgary half an hour later.  Ottawa at Vancouver begins at 10 p.m. eastern, and Edmonton at Los Angeles, acting as this evening’s nightcap, starts at half past 10.

Four of tonight’s games are between division rivals (New Jersey at Columbus, Nashville at Chicago, Winnipeg at Dallas and Edmonton at Los Angeles), and two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (New York at St. Louis and Nashville at Chicago).  Lastly, Nashville at Chicago is also a rematch of one of last season’s Western Conference Quarterfinal matchups.

Seeing as it qualifies for all three of those groups previously listed, it is hard to take our attention off the PredatorsBlackhawks game!

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Tonight’s game is Nashville‘s seventh in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 2-3-1 record.  Their most recent showing under our observation was a 4-3 overtime loss in Tampa Bay on February 12.  Chicago has been featured a series-high 19 times, and own a 10-6-2 record in such games.  Their most recent game in the series was February 17, a 5-3 victory in Madison Square Garden.

The 29-21-11 Nashville Predators currently occupy fourth place in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference, good enough for the top wildcard spot (which some could argue is very advantageous, seeing as they would avoid their highly competitive division foes until the Conference Finals).  The Predators have played a solid game to get them to that position, allowing the 13th-fewest goals and scoring the 15th-most.

Thanks in part to Roman Josi’s team-leading 144 blocks, only 1617 shots have made their way to 22-18-9 Pekka Rinne and co., of which 90.8% have been saved for only 157 goals against, 13th-fewest in the NHL.  That effort slacks slightly on the penalty kill, as the Preds‘ 79.68% kill rate ranks 12th-worst, allowing 38 power play goals against.  That number is slightly improved though, when taking into account Nashville‘s six shorthanded goals.

Led by James Neal’s 191 shots, Nashville has fired an incredible 1848 shots, and 8.4% have found the back of the net for 159 goals (led by Filip Forsberg’s 23 tallies), 15th-most in the league.  That offense has been spearheaded by the Predators‘ power play, with a 19.7% success rate for 39 goals (led by Shea Weber’s 11 extra-man tallies), which ranks 12th-best in the league.

Nashville is currently riding a two-game win streak, with their most recent being a 3-2 victory in Toronto.  While potentially drawing within eight points of third place in the division is nice, a win this evening more importantly separates the Predators from the Avalanche by three points for the top wildcard spot.

The 38-19-5 Chicago Blackhawks currently sit in second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference.   To get to that position, they’ve played a top-five offense paired with a top-10 defense.

Patrick Kane leads the way for the Hawks, accounting for 219 of the team’s 1913 shots, 9.1% of which have found the back of the net for 176 goals (led by Kane’s 35 tallies), fourth-most in the league.  The squad’s potency only increases when they have the man-advantage, as they connect on 22.63% of their opportunities for 43 power play goals (led by Kane’s 14 extra man goals), the second-best success rate in the league.

The defense is only a step behind.  Even with Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 115 blocks, 1911 shots have found their way to 32-15-3 Corey Crawford and co., 92.5% of which they’ve saved for only 148 goals against (seventh-fewest in the league).  The biggest whole in Chicago‘s game is their penalty kill, which neutralized 79.89% of their penalties for 35 power play goals against, 13th-worst in the league.  That being said, the Hawks‘ seven short-handed goals do make that rate a little bit more manageable.

Chicago‘s most recent game was a 6-1 loss in Minnesota on Sunday.  In addition to securing second place for another day, a win also has the chance to propel Chicago to the top of the division and conference should Dallas lose in regulation.  A loss does put the Hawks at risk for falling to third, should the Blues beat the Rangers.

Chicago has already won the season series, going 3-1-0 in the four previous games played.  These squads last met January 19 in Music City, where the Hawks won 4-1.

This game is also another rematch of one of last season’s Western Quarterfinals.  As we know, Chicago won that series and every other one they were a part of en route to a Stanley Cup championship, but it did take the Hawks six games to defeat Nashville.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Chicago‘s Crawford (seven shutouts [leads the league], 32 wins [second-most in the league] and .928 save percentage [tied for third-best in the league]), Kane (84 points [leads the league], 49 assists [second-most in the league], 35 goals [second-most in the league] and +21 [tied for sixth-best in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (57 points [seventh-most in the league]) & Nashville‘s Josi (44 points, 14 of which are power play assists, and 144 blocks [all lead the team]), Neal (+16 and 191 shots [both lead the team]) and Weber (11 power play goals and 133 hits [both lead the team]).

Sometimes life isn’t fair.  For the Nashville Predators and their fans, this evening is one of those times.  The Chicago team they are facing is, plainly, just too good.  Nashville should consider themselves lucky if they escape the United Center with even a point.

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