Predators' defense finally cracks against NHL's best team

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 8:36pm

The Nashville Predators have shown their defense can hold up against the National Hockey League’s best offense for an extended period.

Even the most defensive-minded club cannot hold up forever against the Vancouver Canucks, though. The breaking point for the Predators came in the third period Tuesday.

Nashville surrendered a pair of goals to Vancouver’s top line — plus one empty-netter — in the final 20 minutes and fell 3-1 before 15,960 at Bridgestone Arena.

The defeat snapped the Predators’ six-game win streak. It also clinched for Vancouver the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

“We managed the game, I thought, the first two periods,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Then the last thing you want against a real good team like the Vancouver Canucks to is be on your heels right off the start of the third period when you’re up by a goal. They scored very quickly and that gave them a lot of momentum and they carried that momentum through.”

When Vancouver forward Alexandre Burrows tied it 1-1 at 1:17 of the third period, it snapped a stretch of 122:32, which included six full periods, during which the Predators held the Canucks without a goal. Burrows also got the game-winner when he converted a breakaway with 2:29 to play.

Both goals included assists from twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, currently two of the league’s top three individual scorers.

“That’s not exactly the way we wanted to finish the game, but [Vancouver] is a good team,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “I thought we had a good start. After that, they kind of got the momentum and started going. … That was big for them — the tying goal. After that, they got it going.”

Even with that eventual scoring surge, the Predators limited the Canucks to just six goals in four meetings this season — five, not counting Aaron Rome’s empty-netter with nine seconds to go. That’s an average of 1.3 per game, well below half Vancouver’s season average of 3.20 per contest.

Not that there’s any big secret behind Nashville’s success.

The Predators are a team that plays defense first and are not afraid to rely on the trap when they think it’s necessary.

“Obviously, they don’t give up a lot defensively, and they play a really good system,” Burrows said. “Going into the third, we wanted to get some shots in traffic and we wanted to get some turnovers.”

That approach was even more prevalent in this one. At times, it seemed the defensemen were chained to their own blue line and unable to cross center-ice, which was fine until the third period when Nashville was outshot 14-2.

“We just sat back way too much in the third,” captain Shea Weber said. “We didn’t push forward. … That’s not going to win anything. With a one-goal lead against a good team like that, we have to keep pushing forward.

“That’s a good team over there. We played 40 good minutes and we have to take the positives out of that. It’s tough to lose points at this time of year, but we can’t afford to sit back and dwell on it.”

Sitting back, after all, was a big part of the reason they lost those points.

Briefly

• Burrows’ game-winner came less than a minute after the crowd serenaded the Predators with a standing ovation during a media timeout.

Such moments have become a regular feature at games this season, but typically they have spurred Nashville on to positive results.

• Mike Fisher scored Nashville’s only goal. It was his second straight with a goal and his fourth since being traded from Ottawa.

His first goal for the Predators also was scored against Vancouver.

“It’s just some breaks,” Fisher said. “The first one was a tip and the second one was just kind of in the right area and went over the top of [goalie Roberto Luongo]. … His first save is obviously very good. It’s just a matter of getting in front of him and getting some pucks.”

• The Predators were shorthanded five times, just the second time in 14 games they were in that situation five times or more. They killed off all five and did so against the league’s top power play.

The last five times Nashville was shorthanded five times or more, it allowed at least one goal.

“We wanted to stay out of the penalty box,” Trotz said. “Our penalty kill did a really good job, but that’s taxing against a really good power play.”