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Too Little, Too Late

One bad period is the touch of death for a hockey team; during poor stretches in February and early March, the Nashville Predators seemed to have continuing problems in the 2nd period. Tonight against Washington, a fellow come-from-behind battler for playoff position, the Preds seemed to sleepwalk through the first, leaving them with a 3-0 deficit that proved too difficult to overcome en route to a 4-2 loss at home. Will they follow this up by beating the NHL-leading Red Wings, as they did last week after losing to the L.A. Kings? I wouldn't count on it; that's a hardly a formula for a successful stretch drive.

The Capitals took the 1-0 lead off a nice shot by Alexander Semin just inside the faceoff dot to Ellis' right, but Greg Zanon had gone down (once again) to the ice to block a potential shot far too early, which gave Semin all the room he needed to skate into prime scoring position before firing away. It's the same gaffe that Zanon's been committing for several weeks now, and word is apparently getting around the league that one good fake is all it takes to get Zanon to drop faster than a cheap prom dress.

Washington's second goal came off a nifty play by Alex Ovechkin. Some criticize AO saying that he's merely a prodigious shooter, and doesn't make his teammates better. On this occasion, though, Ovie drew all the attention to himself, and as he cut behind the Nashville net, fed a slick pass to Nicklas Backstrom who had time to take an initial shot, then stuff his own rebound past Ellis. Zanon had left Backstrom to cover Viktor Kozlov (who Vern Fiddler was already on), so give #5 another demerit on this one.

You want 3-0? Just have the goalie fire the puck up-ice, only to have Brooks Laich knock it down and feed a soft pass to Matt Bradley for an easy goal. Ellis gets pulled, Chris Mason goes in, and the situation grows dire. Ellis has pretty much been ordained the #1 goaltender over the last two weeks, but giving up 3 goals on 8 shots in a critical home game really takes the wind out of a team's figurative sails.

Despite dominating the second period, only a lone J.P. Dumont goal narrowed the gap; it wasn't until 7:23 left in the 3rd when Jason Arnott put a low wrister through the five-hole of Huet that things became competitive at 3-2. From there, Nashville pretty much carried the play, but couldn't score the tying goal that would have at least helped them gain ground on Northwest division contenders that continue to leave the door open.

The margin for error is becoming increasingly thin, and a victory tonight would have put enormous pressure on the Northwest Gang to avoid playoff elimination. Unless the Predators come up with a few solid 60-minute efforts over the next two weeks, those Northwesterners will merely tussle over who they'll face in the first round, hardly a do-or-die proposition.

Obviously I'm back from my trip out of town, so my apologies for the lack of fresh content here lately. Hopefully my new computer arrives tomorrow, and early next week I can resume number crunching...

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