The Nashville Predators have had a long, confusing season, often filled with more questions than answers for Preds fans. But given all that’s happened, the Preds still find themselves within arms reach of a playoff spot with several games in hand to get there.

And a two game sweep of the rival St. Louis Blues over the weekend is a big reason why.

Sunday night’s 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues, which followed a 4-3 win over the Blues the day before, puts the Preds one point out of a wildcard spot with three games in hand on Arizona. The Preds have now won seven of their last ten games, including three straight for the first time since October.

“Huge two wins in a row against one of the top teams in the league,” Pekka Rinne said after the game. “Just a gutsy effort tonight. Obviously, two timely goals, we played solid defensively and just got it done.”

Rinne added that he thinks the team has turned a corner somewhat and that the horizon looks a lot better than it did earlier in the season.

“All in all, you look at where we are at, I think these last three games have really, you know, given us confidence, and kind of see the light now. Helps us for sure.”

The win on the road in St. Louis was a big one for sure, but it sure seemed like the win on Sunday night was a more impressive win, considering how it happened. Both teams played tough, grind-it-out hockey, both teams had excellent goaltending, but only one team was able to score when it mattered.

Kyle Turris, Pekka Rinne step up huge

It wasn’t the prettiest game offensively for the Preds, as the Blues dominated puck possession throughout. But Nashville was able to score when it counted, first when Craig Smith put home a rebound midway through the 2nd period to put the Preds up 1-0. Then in the 3rd period, Kyle Turris scored the go ahead goal on a quick look wrist shot from the right circle that goalie Jordan Binnington just missed.

Turris’ shot cleared Binnington’s right pad by only inches. Credit Turris not only for the speed and accuracy of the shot, but the toe drag move to get the puck inside and use the defender as a screen as well.

Of course, Pekka Rinne was the key to the Preds’ win. He stopped a season high 38 shots in net, most of which were close shots by the Blues’ bruising forwards who were pressing hard to get an advantage.

There’s been some talk about Juuse Saros taking the starting job, but Pekka Rinne did a lot to silence that Sunday night with one of his best games of the season.

What John Hynes sees from the Preds

According to coach John Hynes, it was the Preds’ recent gains in mental strength that were key to staying in this game.

“I think our mental toughness and focus has been better and I think that really drives everything else that you do,” Hynes said after the game. “I think the team seems as though they’re coming together, they’re playing hard for each other. When you look at the things that don’t take talent, whether it’s defensive structure, stick detail, shot blocking, taking a hit to make a play, smart line changes, all those little things they are more and more and more into our game.”

The Preds were certainly doing all of those little things to get by the Blues in these two weekend games. Hynes knows there’s still work to be done, but he likes the trend of his team right now.

“That’s when you are really showing your teammates that you’re playing for them and not with them. I think that’s been probably the biggest difference, not so much tactics, but I think mental toughness, team, guys playing for each other.”

Of course, the Preds have had spells of spectacular play this season. Remember October, when the Preds started 8-3-2 and were cruising towards another Central Division title? The bottom fell out in November and got worse in December, before hitting a season low on New Year’s Day in a loss to the Dallas Stars at the Winter Classic.

Will this swell in superb play from the Nashville Predators continue longer than a week? Will goaltending continue to carry the team every night? Can goal scorers like Craig Smith and Kyle Turris continue to step up when it matters most? Will the team’s renewed sense of mental toughness catapult them into the playoffs?

Preds Quote of the Week

“I don’t know, probably twelve years ago?”

-Craig Smith on the last time he remember scoring a hat trick, just after getting one against the Islanders on Thursday night.

GIF Me That Good Stuff

Viktor Arvidsson revenged the Blues on Saturday night with a stunner of a slap shot in the 1st period.

Let’s Do That Hockey

  • Tuesday, February 18th vs Carolina Hurricanes (7:00 PM; FS-TN)
  • Friday, February 21st @ Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 PM; FS-TN)
  • Saturday, February 22nd vs Columbus Blue Jackets (7:00 PM; FS-TN)

Final Thought

A few days ago, I wrote about three possible destinations that David Poile could trade Craig Smith at the deadline. With a little over a week to go until the deadline, not only has Smith not been traded yet, he has caught fire for the Nashville Predators, scoring six goals in five games and recording the first hat trick of his career.

But I’m not ready to call foul on my prediction just yet.

While it would be quite foolish of the Preds to trade Craig Smith, or anyone on that line for that matter, there’s almost no way you could get more value out of Smith than you could right now. He’s never been a more wanted commodity, given his scoring ability and speed, and he’s clearly on a hot streak. Time to strike while the iron is hot, right?

Then there’s the potential return. If David Poile were to trade Craig Smith, it would likely be a high price, given the returns for both Jason Zucker and Blake Coleman in recent days.

Coleman, a player with a 20-goal ceiling and a similar skill set to Craig Smith, is an especially high return. A guy like that going for a 1st round pick and a top defensive prospect? David Poile would be foolish not to shop Craig Smith. Remember that he’s unlikely to be able to keep both Smith and Mikael Granlund this summer.

Therein lies the conundrum for Poile. If he trades Smith, breaking up the best line on the Nashville Predators, he’s making a mistake. If he doesn’t trade Smith, he doesn’t capitalize on a tradeable asset, probably loses him in the summer, and also makes a mistake.

Of course, there’s also this scenario: David Poile doesn’t trade Craig Smith and that line helps carry the Preds all the way to their first Stanley Cup win. Easy, right?

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —
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