NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Predators coach Barry Trotz found a certain irony in the way that right wing Jordin Tootoo scored the game-winning goal in Nashville's 3-2 win on Saturday over Anaheim at Bridgestone Arena.
Tootoo, who added an assist and drew the penalty that led to another goal, was playing his first game after serving a two-game suspension for a hit on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. On that December 3 play, Tootoo failed to avoid Miller and delivered a high hit on the goalie while skating in tight on the crease.
On Saturday, he made the score 3-1 Nashville at 5:25 of the third with his fourth goal of the season. He raced down the left wing undefended and placed a wrist shot over the glove of Ducks goalie Dan Ellis, a former Predator, and just inside the far post – a play that Trotz found somewhat analogous to the one that got Tootoo suspended.
"I said after he came to the bench I said that was a (heck) of a move," Trotz said. "That's how you score in the League. You take that step and he popped it in. If there's a defender on his back, he would've had to cut to the front of the net, but you can't change his game. What I thought of that suspension, I thought he was trying to make a hockey play and he wasn't allowed to do it, so we move on.
"Jordin -- I asked him not to change his game. Just stay on his game."
Indeed, Tootoo was at his feisty best, intimating after the game about his pent-up energy from the suspension. In a major turning point, he drew a slashing call on Brandon McMillan that allowed Nashville to score its second goal. During the man advantage, Predators rookie defenseman Roman Josi unleashed a slapshot from the center of the ice, just inside the blue line, that beat Ellis at 2:33 of the third period on that power play.
The goal was the first of the 21-year-old Swiss' NHL career, and he said teammate Patric Hornqvist kept the puck for him. Josi was playing in his eighth NHL game after making his debut on November 27.
"It's a pretty cheesy call, but at the same time there's no need to even put yourself in that position," Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said of McMillan's indiscretion. "It wasn't much of anything, but at the same time, you don't even need to put your stick there. He gave you a good hit -- suck it up and live to fight another day."
Tootoo has traded barbs with the Ducks this season, as some lingering animosity from the teams' first-round playoff series last spring – which Nashville won in six games – spilled over to this year's campaign. The Ducks' Bobby Ryan was suspended during the series for stomping on Preds defenseman Jon Blum.
"Part of my game is to get under those guys' skins and, you know, it doesn't matter who we're playing," Tootoo said. "The media plays it up a little, but I could care less who we're playing against… When you got their top guys rattled, I'm doing my job."
Tootoo said he had scored "tons of times" on Ellis when the goalie was Predator for three seasons, so the goal Saturday was nothing out of the ordinary.
"I read him like a book," Tootoo said. "Just like when he played here. Top cheese every time."
Goalie Pekka Rinne made 15 saves as Nashville won its second straight. Anaheim fell to 2-3-1 since Boudreau took over as coach.
While Nashville's power play -- ranked 10th in the League entering the game -- only connected on one of its four chances, it was successful in generating scoring opportunities and zone time. Nashville had one power play goal disallowed because it was ruled that Colin Wilson kicked it in.
Boudreau said the Ducks missed center Saku Koivu, who sat out the game with a lower-body injury, on special teams. They also missed him on faceoffs, as Nashville won 65 percent of the draws.
"When you don't have a guy like Saku, who can calm things down as a leader out there, as a centerman, and you look at the discrepancy at faceoffs, as well, when you lose that many faceoffs, that means they have possession that much," Boudreau said. "It's a recipe for not being successful."
Francois Beauchemin cut the lead to 3-2 at 13:24 with a diving poke from the slot on a rebound that slid narrowly inside the right post, but by then it was too late.
The game marked the second time that Ellis, who departed Nashville via free agency before last season, came up empty against his old team. Ellis started Game 1 for the Ducks last season in their 2011 Western Conference quarterfinal series against Nashville, playing 41 minutes and allowing four goals on 24 shots. He did not appear again in the series, as Nashville won in six games.
While Nashville dominated in shots through two periods on Saturday, 20-10, the score was tied at second intermission 1-1. Anaheim struck first 38 seconds into the second period, continuing strong offensive play that began late in the first period. McMillan and Andrew Gordon played a give-and-go down low, with Gordon eluding Josi to take the return pass from behind the net and slip a quick wrister past Rinne.
Nashville tied the game with 7:57 left in the period, as Wilson led a 3-on-2. Wilson carried the puck down the center of the ice all the way to the left circle, then curled and sent a crisp, cross-ice pass to Nick Spaling, the late trailer, who ripped a wrist shot past Ellis.
If Tootoo's play earned him the first star, the second might as well go to the ever-intensifying rivalry.
"There's a couple of players like Toots around the League," Trotz said. "When they're playing against us, I absolutely hate them, but I would do probably anything to love to get them on our team. So we're fortunate he's on our team….
"There's a couple of guys on their team I don't care for either. So even it out. I just had to throw that out there."
1 - 0 ANA
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NSH
3 - 1 NSH