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Preds collect statement win in Detroit

Three-fourths the way through their most telling week of the season, the Predators have picked up two wins – both of them of the statement variety.

In what was hyped up to be a probable playoff preview, Pekka Rinne and the Predators took it to Detroit tonight in a solid 4-1 victory. It was the 500th win for Barry Trotz and the organization. Rinne made 31 saves and Alexander Radulov tallied two points as the Predators vaulted to fourth in the Western Conference.

Even without scoring, the Predators set the tone in the first period by playing their game – unlike in St. Louis. They out-shot the Red Wings 9-7 in the opening frame and had a handful of quality chances. More importantly, they didn’t allow the Red Wings to gain momentum or consistent offensive zone time.

Things got a little hairy in the second period for the Predators, as they took three penalties; they were out-shot 17-8 by the Red Wings in the middle frame. But the Predators were opportunistic and struck first when Gabriel Bourque’s wrister got through traffic in front of Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. Bourque found a soft spot in the offensive zone, took a pass from Jordin Tootoo and let go of an off-balance wrist shot to notch his sixth goal of the year.

With the Predators leading 1-0 and Detroit on the power play, Rinne threw his hat into the ‘save of the year’ ring. As Tomas Holmstrom screened him in front, Rinne kept track of the puck and robbed Henrik Zetterberg of what should have been an easy goal. Grand larceny at its finest.

What could have been a tied game suddenly turned into a two-goal lead for the Predators. After killing off all three Red Wings power plays, Francis Bouillon pounced on a loose puck in the slot and beat Howard on his blocker side. Bouillon’s third goal in as many weeks gave the Predators a 2-0 lead with 33 seconds remaining in the second.

The Predators didn’t let up in the third period and didn’t surrender many chances to the Red Wings. At the 2:40 mark of the period, Radulov snuck in behind the Red Wings defense and buried a pinpoint feed from Andrei Kostitsyn to put the Predators on top 3-0. It was a dagger goal, and Radulov’s second of the season.

Jiri Hudler broke Rinne’s shutout with 3:03 left in the third period to make it 3-1, but Shea Weber finished off the 4-1 win with an empty net tally.

The Predators (45-25-8) will host sixth-place Chicago tomorrow night in what will be a chance to hit the 100-point mark for the fourth time in franchise history.

This and That:

- The Predators never seemed out of control of this game. Too many times, especially in Detroit, the Preds are forced to win playing Detroit’s game but a quality first period allowed the Preds to settle in. The Red Wings’ storm came in the second period, and Rinne weathered it. This was a complete effort, one the Preds will need to display consistently if they are to face the Wings in Round 1.

- I wasn’t overly impressed with Alexander Radulov’s game in St. Louis; understandably, he could have been running out of gas after a hectic week. He seemed to benefit from the extra day of rest as he was buzzing in the Red Wings’ zone most of the night. He recorded two points, reaching 100 for his NHL career, and three shots in 20:13 of ice-time. He’s been the Preds’ best forward since returning last week.

- Roman Josi was impressive in his return to the lineup tonight. He logged 17:30 of ice-time and tallied a plus-3 rating while recording four shots. Jordin Tootoo only saw 7:32 of ice-time tonight. If there are any changes tomorrow, I would expect it to be Tootoo to come out of the lineup.

- Andrei Kostitsyn played his best game in a while. He was strong on the puck – as seen on his pass on Radulov’s goal – and was physical when he needed to be.

- The penalty kill unit came through in the clutch and blocked six shots, but they did play with fire at times. The unit is now 38-for-42 (90.5%) since Hal Gill was acquired. By the way, Gill played a strong game tonight as well, posting a plus-2 rating in 20:00 of ice-time.

- On Radulov’s goal, Rinne picked up his fifth assist of the season to take over the NHL points lead for goaltenders.

- The Predators started the season series by losing three of four to Detroit. Rinne and company got the last laugh in the end, winning both games this month to knot the season series at three games apiece.

- Not only was it Barry Trotz’s and the organization’s 500th win, but it was for GM David Poile, too. Poile became the first NHL general manager to win 500 games with two different teams. He also won 500 in his stint with the Washington Capitals.

- Tomorrow’s game against Chicago is crucial for multiple reasons. After dropping four of the first five meetings, it’s the Blackhawks’ last chance to gain some confidence against the Preds in case they play in the playoffs. It’s the Preds’ chance to gain a considerable lead on Chicago for home-ice. It’s also a chance for the Preds to really gain momentum going into the last week of the season with three wins in four critical intra-division games. It should be a fun atmosphere in Smashville!

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