COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Nashville Predators closed out the 2012-13 shortened NHL season with a 3-1 loss to Columbus at Nationwide Arena on Saturday. The Blue Jackets needed the win to still have a chance at the postseason, but with the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings both winning their final games, the Blue Jackets finished ninth in the Western Conference and on the outside looking in.
The game also marked the last time the Predators and Blue Jackets will meet as division rivals. With the Blue Jackets moving to the Eastern Conference next season in realignment, the rivalry comes to an end.
“We’ve had a hate, a little bit. It started way back, the first year when they came in, distance wise and then us being new expansion teams,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. “Way back the first year, I can tell you how it started. We were playing a pre-season game and one of the management went to one of my veteran players and they said something that I thought was inappropriate and he thought it was inappropriate, about the Nashville Predators. It gave us motivation for all those years. Plain and simple.”
With the rivalry coming to an end, the Predators have only good things to say about Columbus as they make the move to the Eastern Conference.
“It is one of those things where we had their number for years,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “They are a good team, a well-balanced team. They play their system really well, kind of like how we should play and how we played in the past. You have to give them credit. They work really hard as a team.”
With Nashville dominating play between the two clubs for years, it would have been fitting if the Predators had ended their rivalry by squashing their playoff chances. With an all-time record of 50-17-6-1 against Columbus, the Blue Jackets had been a whipping post of the Predators for years. Nashville had even enjoyed a 17-home-game winning streak that was snapped early last season.
After a scoreless first period Saturday night, Nashville took a 1-0 lead at 8:29 of the second period when Shea Weber picked up his ninth goal of the season. David Legwand and Joonas Rask picked up the assists. It was the first NHL point for Rask. The Blue Jackets won the third period, however, firing 25 shots on goal in the final frame alone.
Though the Blue Jackets scored three goals in the third period, Nashville netminder Chris Mason played his best game of the season, making 44 saves on the night. Mason sees Columbus as a team that will only get better.
“It has been an evolution. They should be very proud of what they have going now. They are a completely different team than what they were even just two years ago. They have a bright future. They are going to go over there and continue to work relentlessly, like they do. They played unbelievable and that’s all they could do,” he said.
Center Mike Fisher pointed out that the trade deadline acquisitions as well as last off-season’s moves have placed Columbus in a good position for their first year in the East.
“[Moving to the Eastern Conference] is going to be better for them. They’ve done a pretty good job. They have made some moves. We have always had some pretty tight games and important games. It’s been fun”, center Mike Fisher said.
The Blue Jackets won the season series against Nashville, finishing with a 4-1-0 record. It is only the second time that Columbus has won a season series against the Predators; the previous season-series win came during the 2000-01 season, the first year Columbus was in the NHL.