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Preds survive self-inflicted Ducks surge, win 5th straight…

Tonight against the 8th place Anaheim Ducks and Saturday against the 9th place Dallas Stars. Two of the biggest games of the Nashville Predators’ 2010-11 season.

One down, one to go.

In front of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena, the Predators used two goals from Sergei Kostitsyn and one each from Nick SpalingJordin Tootoo and David Legwand in the 5-4 victory over Anaheim. The win vaults the Preds into 5th place in the West.

Pekka Rinne made 34 saves while his counterpart Jonas Hiller registered just six on the other end of the ice before being pulled in favor of former Predator Dan Ellis. Ellis finished with 17 saves on 19 Nashville shots.

Hiller was playing in his first game since February 13 after recovering from vertigo.

After three first period tallies, Nashville almost gave the game away late. Anaheim scored two power play goals in the final 11:00 of regulation to make it interesting at 5-3. Then, after several failed attempts to get Kostitsyn his hat trick while the net was empty, the Ducks made things real interesting with a goal with just 0:27 left.

“Obviously everyone was trying to get Sergei the hat trick,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “Not the time of year and not the team you want do that against. That’s what really frustrated me. We’ve got to manage the game.”

But before all that happened, the Predators wasted no time getting on the board. Early in the first — and I mean “just over 2:00 into the game” early — Patric Hornqvist noticed Hiller was off the post. In an attempt to bank it off of him, Hornqvist fired the puck toward the net. The black biscuit threaded the needle between Hiller and the near pipe and fell right in Kostitsyn’s lap. “SK74” tapped in the first goal of the night and his 18th of the season.

Just moments later, Spaling carried over the blueline and wristed a laser by Hiller to make it 2-0, Nashville.

The Predators weren’t done, however. They chased Hiller from the Anaheim net after a second goal by Kostitsyn made it 3-0, home team.

After Ellis entered the Ducks net, Anaheim answered with a goal of their own. Bobby Ryan, inside the face-off circle, spun off a defender and made a gorgeous, no-look pass to Corey Perry‘s tape. All the Hart Trophy candidate had to do was tap it over the line.

After the score became 3-1, Nashville, it became The Pekka Rinne Show. The Kempele, Finland native had to make 15 saves in the first period alone, many of which you’ll see on NHL On the Fly tonight. Group those with save he had to make when Andreas Lilja burst out of the penalty box on a breakaway to keep the score at 3-1 and you’ve got yourself a bonafide Vezina Trophy highlight demo package for voters.

“He won us the hockey game in the last 10:00 of the first period,” Trotz said.

But the Predators weren’t done. In the waining moments of the middle frame, Tootoo wanted to go toe-to-toe with Lilja at center ice. Lilja declined and the Predators faithful thank him for doing so. Tootoo accepted Lilja’s response and skated into the Anaheim zone where Shane O’Brien found him with a pass. Tootoo then tallied his first goal since December 15.

In the final period, Legwand scored his 15th goal of the season when he and Joel Ward broke in shorthanded. Legwand used Ward, who was breaking to the net backwards, as a screen. He fired a shot through the traffic and tallied his first shorthanded goal of the year and ninth of his career.

Teemu Selanne volleyed right back just seconds later, roofing his 24th goal of the year over Rinne’s glove shoulder. He then scored his 25th while the Ducks were on a 5-on-3 power play while Spaling and O’Brien sat in the box, each for hooking.

Perry tacked on the fourth Anaheim goal when his routine dump in was kicked in by Ryan Suter. Suter was trying to safely play the puck behind the Preds net but, instead, it deflected in to pull the game within one.

The three un-answered goals in the final 11:00 of the game reminded many of the Game 5 collapse against Chicago last year and the 4-1 lead that ended in a 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs this past November.

“We can’t let a team off the hook,” Trotz said. “A good example: we had Chicago on the hook last year in the playoffs and we let them off the hook. They went onto win the Stanley Cup. We’ve gotta learn from that. When the hell are we going to learn from it? How many times do you have to get hit over the head to go ‘that hurts?’.

“I mean, please. You can only touch the stove so many times before you get burned.”

Nashville will now focus on the Stars. Dallas, who is in direct competition with the Predators for a playoff spot in the West, comes to town on Saturday.

Puck drops at 7:05pm Central. 

* Mike Fisher, Nashville’s big “deadline signing,” can’t buy a goal. He’s been on fire the last couple weeks, appearing to be so close to getting one. In tonight’s contest, he had what seemed like an empty net to shoot at when Ellis’s pad came out of nowhere and took the goal away. Fisher hasn’t scored since February 17.
* How Rinne was not voted one of the Three Stars is beyond comprehension.
* Dallas, the Predators next opponent, was the last opponent of the Ducks.
* Selanne finished with a game-high nine shots on goal.
* Shea Weber and Legwand led all Preds skaters with four shots on goal.
* Thanks to the four goals allowed, Rinne is now third in the Williams Jennings Trophy race. Only Vancouver (168) and Boston (171) goaltenders have allowed less goals than the Preds (173). The Preds came into the night in second place.
* Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa finished a minus-4.
* Kostitsyn now has seven points in his last five games.
* With a win over Dallas on Saturday, Nashville would have 92. If things fall right this weekend, the Predators would be in 4th and only three points back of Central Division leading Detroit.

MY THREE STARS (as voted on with 5:21 remaining in regulation):
1) Pekka Rinne (NSH)
2) Sergei Kostitsyn (NSH)
3) Patric Hornqvist (NSH)

1) Sergei Kostitsyn (NSH)
2) Nick Spaling (NSH)
3) Corey Perry (ANA)

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover //