NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It was the perfect recipe for disaster.
Coming off a grueling 17-day road trip without a single off-day to recuperate, the Nashville Predators were tasked with playing the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on home ice. While the game would be take place within the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena, Barry Trotz’s club viewed the contest as an extension of its lengthy sojourn, as they had mere hours to rest at home before returning to action.
To make matters more difficult, the ‘Hawks had been playing some great hockey, winning seven of eight prior to their trip to the Music City. The Preds, on the other hand, had been out-scored 17-2 in their past four games and sat at the bottom of the Central Division, which Chicago happens to lead.
“The odds were against us,” Patric Hornqvist said. “No question.”
In the end, the final score of 7-2 wasn’t all that surprising; however, the fact that the Preds were the team to rack up seven goals was quite unexpected.
Craig Smith finished with three points (1 G, 2A) Marek Mazanec stopped 39 of 41 shots on goal and Nashville got back on track with a tremendous upset over its heated rival.
And in poetic fashion, it was the oft-criticized Viktor Stalberg, a former ‘Hawk, who put the game out of reach, tipping a Gabriel Bourque pass over Crawford’s left shoulder to give the Preds a 5-2 lead with just 13:31 left in regulation.
“Stalberg was huge. That put them on their heels, and then we got another one, and then obviously another one, and that was game set match,” said Trotz.
“But the fifth goal, that sort of put the game in check.”
“Obviously, it was exciting for me. I was [with Chicago] for a few years, and I have some good friends on that team. It feels good to beat them in our first game,” Stalberg said with a smile. “It was a great win, but the most important thing is that we got back to playing great hockey and got contribution from every single player out there.
The Preds have made a bit of a habit of playing to their opponent’s level, which is helpful when taking on powerhouses like Colorado and Chicago, but crippling when up against the likes of New Jersey and Winnipeg. This is an issue the team will have to address in the long run, but for now it’s encouraging to know they can knock out heavyweights, and do so under less-than-ideal conditions.
“I think we’ve been down here the last couple games and it’s easy to get too down on yourself,” Stalberg said. “But we try to keep the mood light here int he locker room and just come ready to play. I thought we did a good job right off the getgo, and really took it to them.”
Perhaps the most surprising ingredient to Saturday’s triumph was the performance of rookie netminder Marek Mazanec, who earned the elusive first win of his NHL career. While he struggled in his first three games in a Nashville sweater, the 22-year-old Czech stood strong between the pipes and thwarted a lethal Chicago offense.
“I honestly didn’t really think about it,” he said of getting his first NHL win. “It’s just another game, and I tried to be helpful for my team … I’m definitely more comfortable facing more shots during a game. I don’t want to wait for a shot for five minutes. It was a good game for me because they shot from every position.”
The Preds will take some time to recuperate before hitting the road again on Tuesday, and will return home again next Saturday to take on the New York Rangers. Nashville’s schedule doesn’t get a whole lot easier in the coming weeks, but its victory over Chicago may be a necessary boost to the team’s morale.
“[This win] is obviously going to be big for our confidence,” said Stalberg. “Great win, hopefully we can keep rolling a bit here.”