The Nashville Predators’ playoff hopes live on as they defeated the Calgary Flames in a shootout on Monday night. The do-or-die game for both teams ended in a 3-2 road win for the Preds, eliminating a Western Conference foe. The de facto MVP of the game was Juuse Saros, with other young guns becoming late-game heroes, scoring clutch goals to secure a win for their team.
Saros MVP for the Predators
The Predators won this game because of the jaw-dropping performance from Saros. Stopping 42 of 44 shots with a .955 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average does not display the full effect of his play. Saros stopping multiple breakaways, his clutch saves in overtime, and shutting down three consecutive Flames shooters in the shootout is why this team is still in the hunt for the playoffs.
Throughout the back-and-forth thriller of overtime, Saros faced and stopped three shots, including besting Tyler Toffoli on a point-blank slapshot in the slot. Like the entire season’s story, the Predators’ netminder was once again their MVP, as they only go as far as he can take them. If they make the NHL Playoffs, one can argue that he should be in the Vezina and Hart Trophy discussions; however, it makes sense to hold off on that discussion until it happens.
Predators’ Youth Coming Up Clutch
The Predators’ youth proved why they are the future of the team. Egor Afanaseyev scored his first NHL goal, while Cody Glass and Tommy Novak scored in the shootout to win the game. Glass, the second shooter in the third round of the shootout, had to score, or else the Preds’ playoff dreams were over. He got one past Jakob Markstrom, whose questionable puck handling led directly to Afanaseyev’s goal.
Novak, a revelation for the Predators this season, scored in the fourth round of the shootout, sending the team back to Bridgestone Arena with the hope that Thursday night’s tussle with the Minnesota Wild is meaningful. The word clutch is often overused in the sports world. Despite this, the Predators have played in 38 one-goal games this season, winning 23 of them. Once again, the team and its young core proved why they deserve this recognition, as when it is close, they often find a way to squeak out a win.
Flame’s Questionable Coaching Decisions
Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter faced a lot of criticism this season over an array of coaching decisions. In Monday night’s game, he will have to answer for one more questionable decision before the Flames call it a season. In the third round of the shootout, he sent bottom-six forward Nick Ritchie to take the shot that could have eliminated the Predators.
Ritchie, acquired at the deadline from the Arizona Coyotes, did not score. Everyone reading knows what followed. Cody Glass scores, Backlund misses, then Novak scores the most important goal of his career. Time will tell whether this decision is the straw that breaks the camel’s back regarding Sutter’s tenure with the Flames; however, in the eyes of the Predators’ organization and their fans, they should be grateful for this curious decision.
Predators Need Help From Jets
Despite this pivotal win, the Predators do not control their destiny. They need to win their remaining two games, while the Winnipeg Jets, who sit in the second wild-card spot, need to lose their remaining games for the Predators to make the playoffs. It is an uphill battle, however, not impossible. The remaining schedule sees the Preds play the Wild and Colorado Avalanche back-to-back on the final two days of the regular season.
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The Wild and Avalanche are Stanley Cup contenders this season, and while that should be a worrying thought, there is a caveat to these upcoming games. Both teams close out their season against the Predators. One can assume they will be resting some of their star players as a safeguard ahead of the 2023 NHL Playoffs to avoid injury, icing a weaker roster. These players could include Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Matthew Boldy, Kirill Kaprisov, and any other important roster player you can think of.
From the Predators’ side, this should make winning these important games much easier, despite having the two games involving a back-to-back with travel. If a loss to either of these opponents happens, or the Jets get a measly one point in their two remaining games, their season is over. If the odds against them prove too high, this season should still bring pride to Nashville. A team that sold at the deadline eliminated a team deemed a Stanley Cup contender at the beginning of the season.
The future is bright, Predators fans, so enjoy the rest of the season while it lasts, win or lose.