Preds heading to playoffs

Friday, April 4, 2008 at 12:59am

The collective sigh of relief heard in the air between Nashville and Chicago was the realization by the Predators that tonight’s game against the Blackhawks doesn’t matter.

The Predators took care of their own business, winning 3-2 over the St. Louis Blues Thursday night at the Sommet Center. The Edmonton Oilers sealed the No. 8 playoff berth for the Predators with a 2-1 win on the road against the Vancouver Canucks.

All eight teams are set in the Western Conference. The Predators, with 91 points, are only one point behind seventh place Calgary, a loser to the Minnesota Wild Thursday night.

This will be the fourth straight trip to the playoffs for the Predators.

When the final buzzer blew in the win over St. Louis, the Predators didn’t yet know if they had clinched a playoff berth or not.

But they knew they had captured the hearts of their fans. The sellout crowd stood for the closing minutes cheering and waving the white T-shirts they had been given for attending the game.

“If you are standing behind the bench, it is pretty impressive to look at the community and the people in the stands,” said Predators coach Barry Trotz. “It was pretty loud on the bench because I was trying to call lines and the guys couldn’t hear me.

“It was very loud, but it was great. It shows that we have a great fan base that has supported us all year.”

Predators goaltender Dan Ellis, who remained on the ice during the third television timeout while the crowd went wild, credited the fans with giving the team the extra push it needed both on Thursday and down the stretch toward the playoffs.

“That was huge,” Ellis said. “We were able to feed off of that. It gave us a lot of energy to get us through the final minutes.”

The crowd wasn’t always that loud. Center Jerred Smithson scored a short-handed goal to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. But the Blues came back strong in the second period with a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes. Right wing J.P. Dumont kept the second period from being a total loss as he scored with 2:14 left to tie the game.

The Predators scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 4:01 of the third period. Dumont fell down behind the Blues’ goal, but managed to pass the puck to defenseman Greg de Vries, who drove the snap shot past St. Louis goaltender Hannu Toivonen.

“Usually Jason Arnott is right down in front,” Dumont said. “He was there, but when I tripped and fell I just put the puck in front of the net. Luckily for us, de Vries was there. He has a great shot to get the goal.”

Ellis was back in goal for the Predators. He was pulled in Tuesday night’s game at St. Louis after allowing three goals on the first seven shots. He saved 27 of the 29 shots he faced.

“The coaches have shown a lot of support in me,” Ellis said. “Chris Mason came up with a big game Tuesday night against St. Louis. You always want to bounce back especially at this time of the season. You want to prove you are not a liability to the team.

“I want to help this team out in any opportunity that I get. To give the guys a chance to win was awesome for me. We played the way we are supposed to play.”

The Predators close out the regular season tonight at 7:30 on the road against the Chicago Blackhawks.

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By: yank283 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Great game...I do believe the standing O during the TV timeout in the third peroid was a big FU to the Canadian media, Scott Burnside and last but definitly not least Jim Balsillie.

By: nashbeck on 12/31/69 at 7:00

This is a great sports story for not only hockey in Nashville, but for any sport in America. In May of last year, I was afraid the Predators might leave. Now they have been sold to a local ownership and they are going to the playoffs! (even with all the star players cut!) Go NASHVILLE Predators!!!

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Give credit for this season to Barry Trotz.

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

That was fun to watch even on tv, I can only imagine what it was like to be there. WTG, Preds!

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Great win, we're in the playoffs, which means at least two more home games. To all those who didn't want the Preds in Nashville....can you hear it? I'll turn it up for you....LOL

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 7:00

gdiafante, you do not have to turn it up for them. They are on every corner

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 7:00

You're oblivious Frank. Maybe one day someone will explain it to you.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Ironically, Burnside has been saying that the Preds will make the playoffs and Trotz should get COY if they do. Let's see if he sticks to that.

By: Cowboy84 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Good News: Preds make the playoffs with a roster full if guys who play hard and make the most of their talent.Bad News: We might still wind up playing San Jose in the 1st round. I like our chances against Detroit a little better than against San Jose.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I was at the game last night and will also say, it was a great show of support to see everyone in the stands swirling their white T-shirts all at once. It makes me think maybe this city does care enough about hockey to keep the team here.

By: capt4chris on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Our season is a great comeback story. When you watch this stuff unfold in front of you, it's the best thing in the world. We got a nice picture on the back of the paper today too.See you guys at the playoffs!

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I am a Calgary fan this weekend. If we do play SJ in the playoffs, just think of it like this: odds are eventually we HAVE to win a series...lol

By: BADCOPS on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Great news!