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Preds beat Pens in shootout, head to Olympic Break…

The Nashville Predators are now on a 15 day break.

And they don’t have to spend those two weeks feeling sorry for themselves as they managed to beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the shootout on Sunday afternoon. The final score will go down on paper as 4-3 but, more than that, this is a monumental win for the Predators as they absolutely did not want to go into the break within striking distance of three different Western Conference teams.

They haven’t exactly been on a tear lately, going 4-8-2 in their last 14 games. As a result, perhaps the long break will be good for Nashville. The late January and February Preds are nowhere near the club that skated back in November and December when they went 18-8-2, seemingly at the top of their game.

Make no mistake about it, Nashville is in the playoff picture because of that two month stretch. Without it, they’re battling the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Taylor Hall Sweepstakes. With 21 games left on their schedule, they’ll need to resurrect that type of success if they want to return to the playoffs after a one year hiatus.

This win will help them do just that.

Nashville currently sits all alone in 7th place and, with the win, made themselves untouchable in the standings until March 3 when Calgary plays their first game in nearly three weeks. And, in a race as tight as the West, they need all the points they can get.

But not all is rosey in Music City. One win doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that they’ve played some poor hockey as of late. Nashville has continuouslyput themselves in position to fight for their playoff lives. Despite escaping with a win, the Preds blew it while they had a minute long 5-on-3 power play with two of the Pens best players in the box. Sidney Crosby and Jordan Stall were in timeout, yet the Preds still couldn’t manage a single shot on goal. That’s just one example of how this team has shot themselves in the foot instead of capturing opportunities in the past couple weeks.

Another example is taking bad penalties. In each of the three New York games this past week (Islanders on Tuesday, Rangers on Wednesday and Devils on Friday), the Preds gave their opponents a 5-on-3 power play. In the Islanders game, the Preds were ahead 3-2 when Martin Erat took a bad penalty with less than a minute left. New York scored at the end of regulation and then won in the shootout. Coupled with a similar bad penalty Dan Hamhuis took at a critical time the game before, the Preds gave away three points in those two nights.

Furthermore, they seem to play well against teams considered contenders (i.e. the win against Pittsburgh and the 1-goal loss to San Jose), but they come out flat and, apparently, think they can coast against teams they should beat (i.e. the loss to the Islanders, the loss to Columbus in late January). That has to stop if the Preds want to go anywhere in the playoffs.

But, at least after the win today, it looks like Nashville is in a good spot. They get to get away from it all while on a high note, they get to watch their fellow Preds compete in the Winter Olympics, and they get 10 games in front of 303 and their hometown fans during the month of March. If they can go 7-3 at home in March, they should set themselves up for success.

But, then again, with this team, you never know.