NASHVILLE – Byron Bitz was 41 days short of the two-year anniversary of his last NHL goal.
On Tuesday, the right wing, who had been sidelined by a string of injuries and played his first NHL game since 2009-10 on Saturday, found himself playing on the Vancouver Canucks' second line with Henrik Sedin at center. Bitz made the most of his opportunity with a goal and an assist in his team's 4-3 shootout victory over the Predators at Bridgestone Arena that snapped Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne's 11-game winning streak.
"It's special," Bitz said. "To score like that, to get a goal, is nice. Like I said, last game there's some things I did well and there's some things I need to work on, so it's a function of time. I just have to keep pressing forward."
Vancouver extended to seven its string of games without a loss in regulation (5-0-2) – the last five of which have all gone to overtime. In the sixth round of the shootout, Alex Edler beat Rinne five-hole with a wrist shot to win the session, 2-1. In the third round, Alex Burrows scored by faking and then going backhand for Vancouver. David Legwand did virtually the same to tie it for Nashville (32-17-5) with the game on the line in that same round.
These Western Conference foes, which matched up in a tightly contested second-round playoff series that the Canucks won in six games last spring, both entered with only three regulation losses in their previous 17 games. Vancouver, second in the conference with 71 points, improved to 12-3-3 in that stretch and Nashville (69 points) is 14-3-1 in its last 18.
"We came back twice, so I liked the character we showed against a team that is the defending Western Conference champions, they're a good hockey team," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "…I thought we easily could have had two points and been on the other side of a shootout, maybe even a regulation win, so it was a good test. We'll take the point. No disgrace in that. I thought we played well in a lot of areas."
With 2010 Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner Henrik Sedin slumping – he has not scored in 11 straight games and has just 1 in his last 14 – Vigneault opted to break up the twin brothers, playing them on separate lines. Ironically, they were briefly reunited at the end of the first period when Bitz collected his two points on goals 23 seconds apart that helped the Canucks take a 3-1 lead into intermission, but then Vigneault went back to experimental lines until the third period.
"Obviously, it was a matter of time before the twins got back together and I was able at the end of one of (Nashville's) power plays to put them together because of the killers we had used," Vigneault said, "and that's when Bitz got his back-to-back points. I thought for the most part, we're trying to get a few guys back to the form that they should be and we're going to keep working real hard at it."
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Bitz, who is filling in for the ill Chris Higgins, started out playing with Henrik and Mason Raymond.
"To play with Danny and Hank and Mase, those guys are easy to play with," he said. "Even in the room between periods, they're humble guys and they made it easy to talk to them about things I should be doing differently and just reading off them. They made it real easy."
Bitz converted a feed from Henrik at 18:21 on sort of a broken play 2-on-1 down low. Then Daniel Sedin took a pass behind the net from Bitz and cashed it in from the slot at 18:44.
Colin Wilson had tied the game at 1-1 with 6:13 left in the period when he won a loose puck along the left boards, skated in and put a wrist shot between Roberto Luongo's catching glove arm and chest.
Ryan Kesler, who dominated the Predators during the teams' playoff series last season, scored on a power play to open the scoring at 11:42. Positioned at the right circle, Kesler took a pass from behind the net from Alex Burrows and snapped it past Pekka Rinne for his 17th.
In the second, Nashville tied the game with two quick goals of its own. At 4:14 of the second, Kevin Klein's shot-pass deflected off Sergei Kostitsyn's right skate. Sixty-two seconds later, the Predators tied it. Shea Weber's shot deflected off Mike Fisher and Luongo went into his butterfly to make the initial save. However, somehow the puck squirted through Luongo's pads as he moved laterally, tying it at 3-3. The goal was Fisher's team-leading 16th and his eighth in eight games.
Rinne (28 saves), who has been on fire lately, was disappointed with his performance in the shootout.
"I wasn't happy with those two goals I gave up," he said.
One of the plays of the game came with 9:35 left in regulation during a Nashville power play. After a scrum in front left Luongo (37 saves) on his back, the puck came to Wilson in the slot. He fired high at the net. Luongo raised up a long left leg as high as it would go and stopped the puck just inches below the crossbar. Trotz called it a "really a huge, almost game-changing type of save."
Luongo credited big feet.
"I think it was a jam play and three or four guys fell in the crease, so I wasn't quite sure where the puck was and it just squirted out to their guy," he said. "Just trying to make myself as big as possible and thank god I wear a size fifteen boot. Was able to get a toe on that."