Preds beat Jackets to close out 1st half of the season…

With 41 games in the books, the 2009 part of the 2009-10 season is over.

Back in August and September, experts had the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference basement come April. Some even had them as the only Central Division team not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Dear experts… you can kiss it.

Through the halfway point of the season, the Preds have defied everyone’s logic (except for a chosen few) and fought their way to a 24-14-3 record, good for fifth overall in the West.

No, not “fifth” as in they’re picking fifth overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft… “fifth” as in “fifth in the West.” As in, the fifth best team in the best conference in hockey.

Also as in, “we’re forcing the Canadian media to respect us.”

Okay sure Nashville didn’t sign any big names during free agency. And sure they lost the Phil Kessel sweepstakes to Toronto. And sure they had a six game stretch in October where they were outscored 22-6. But those are all merely bumps in the road now that the ship has been righted and this Predators team has persevered against, seemingly, all odds.

So here we are. 41 games behind us and 41 games in front of us. Obviously plenty can happen over the next three and a half months but, unlike most years where they excel late in the season, Nashville has excelled early.

The Preds have a long history of a late-season surge. Last season, Nashville got Steve Sullivan back and went on a 2nd half tear. They posted a 20-11-5 record down the stretch but dropped two of their final three games to ultimately finish just three points shy of a playoff spot.

In 2007-08, they went 16-12-4 after the All-Star Break to capture the eighth and final playoff slot in the Western Conference.

The season before, they got points in 22 of their last 33 games to finish fourth in the West and with a franchise-record 110 points.

Matter of fact, you have to go all the way back to 2002-03 to find a post-All-Star run where Nashville had more regulation losses than wins.

If that trend continues, Barry Trotz’s club will find itself with a legitimate shot at the division – and conference – crown. All because they found success in the first three months of the season, as opposed to just playing average hockey.

The win over the Blue Jackets tonight was no different. They allowed the first goal early in the first period and had to battle back for the win. Rookie forward Andreas Thuresson bagged his first career NHL goal in the third frame and then David Legwand tallied the game-winner in the extra session to give Nashville their 24th win of the season.

Their wins have come in all styles: coming from behind, jumping out to early lead and see-saw scoring changes. But it seems like all 24 of them have come from a blue-collar work ethic that is, as Barry Trotz would call it, ”the Predator way.”

Nashville needs 41 more “Predator way”-type games and they’ll be sitting pretty in the standings and among the Western Conference elite. The good thing though? If they don’t quite have the same record in the second half of the season as they had in the first half, they still have a decent shot at making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Something this team – in this city – desperately needs.

So look out Canada.