NASHVILLE – With a 5-2 win on Saturday over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena that ended Columbus' franchise-record 12-game points streak, the Nashville Predators won for the second time in two games and began clawing their way back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs race in the Western Conference.
They remain on the outside looking in with 32 points, but sit just one point behind the Dallas Stars, currently in eighth, and evened themselves with a number of teams, including the San Jose Sharks and the Blue Jackets.
The Predators, who entered the day having played more road games than any team in the NHL at 18, own one of the League's 10 worst road records at 5-11-2 road record, but have shown themselves to be a vastly different team at home, improving to 8-2-4. Saturday, they won their second in a row, with both coming at home.
Is it so simple, then, to explain their struggles this season by saying that they are a different team at home as compared to on the road?
"Well, everything's about confidence," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "You look at our last trip (1-4-0), there was something in Vancouver right off the bat we had a bad exchange and all the sudden we were chasing the game. I don't know if we're different but the situation was different. At home here, we haven't been chasing the game. We've been just playing. You're not two goals down because of a couple of mistakes. Everything just ended up in our net.
"That's a valid question but I don't know if I can really answer that because the situation's a lot different."
Rookie forward Taylor Beck, in his third NHL game, recorded the first points of his career -- a goal and an assist -- for the Predators.
"I've worked my whole life to score goals in the NHL and now I finally got my first," said Beck, 21. "It's a great feeling."
Columbus had entered the game 8-0-4 in its past 12 contests and vaulted itself from doldrums in its perennial spot in the Central Division cellar to back into the playoff race. Columbus coach Todd Richards pointed out how Nashville has been a perennial playoff team and the Blue Jackets had trouble matching the Predators' intensity level as Nashville dashed out to an early 4-1 first-period lead.
Nonetheless, he didn't overlook the importance of what his team accomplished recently.
"Guys did a lot of really good things," Richards said of the streak. "A lot of things to be really proud of during that stretch. How they played, offensively, defensively, how their goaltender played. Had different guys stepping up each night and it got us right back in the middle of the pack right where we're playing important games here. So a lot of good things. Obviously, it's disappointing. The emotions are still high after this game right here but we've got to get back on the horse here and we've got to try to start a new streak."
In a wild first period, Nashville took a 4-1 lead into intermission – and had to kill off a 5-on-3 that lasted 1:53 to do it. All five goals occurred within a span of 3:04 in the middle of the period.
Beck scored at 7:41, kicking off the flurry of action. After R.J. Umberger hit the post at the opposite end, Beck led the rush down into the Blue Jackets' zone and ripped a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot over Sergei Bobrovsky's catching glove.
Nashville went up 2-0 as Shea Weber first drew a hooking call against Columbus forward Vinny Prospal at 8:11 and then scored a power-play goal, his sixth of the season. The Predators won the ensuing offensive zone faceoff and Martin Erat passed in the slot to Bobby Butler, who found Weber for a goal 10 seconds into the man advantage.
Columbus answered with a power-play goal of its own at 9:29, as Umberger picked up a dump-in and then jammed it past Pekka Rinne.
That goal came with Nashville's David Legwand in the penalty box for interference, and so it was Legwand who redeemed himself by netting the next goal. Beck did some good work along the boards and fed Legwand, who flipped in a wrist shot from 11 feet at 9:46.
Matt Halischuk chased Bobrovsky -- starting for the second time in two nights -- from the game at 10:15 when he put a 38-foot wrist shot through a Columbus defenseman's legs and past Bobrovsky, who had gone 8-0-2 in his previous 10 appearances. He allowed four goals on 11 shots and was replaced by Steve Mason.
Despite digging such a deep hole, the Blue Jackets had a chance to get back in the game when Rich Clune received a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct for a hit on the Blue Jackets' Artem Anisimov in the Predators' zone that drew blood.
According to Rule 56.4, the referee can assess an interference major "based on the degree of violence." Under Rule 56.5, a game misconduct follows when a major is assessed and the foul results in an injury. Clune also could be subject to supplementary discipline under Rule 48 for an illegal check to the head. Anisimov returned to play and scored a goal in the second period.
Trotz defended his player.
"I looked at it and there wasn't any head shot," he said. "He hit him right in the crest so personally I don't feel it warranted a five-minute penalty. I think if Anisimov was cut anywhere it was because of Clune's helmet more than anything. I don't think it's a warranted penalty but I don't make that call. Whatever the League decides, the League decides but I thought it was a pretty good hit, right in the crest."
During the Blue Jackets' major power play, Mike Fisher had a partial shorthanded breakaway. Mason stopped him and Fisher's momentum carried him into Mason, which resulted in a goaltender interference penalty.
Columbus then went on a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:53, but Nashville was helped in part by the return of penalty-killing specialist Hal Gill. Playing his first game in 13 after coming off a lower-body injury, the Predators killed all of the penalties. Gill played a team-high 4:09 shorthanded in the period and 7:16 overall. Not bad for a player who has averaged 12:43 this season per game.
"You know what, killing penalties for the most part you're standing there and playing the angles," Gill said. "There are times when you're playing the angels and you get aggressive but I've been working hard to stay in shape and to be in shape. I wasn't too worried about that. It's the timing and everything. You take a second to make sure it's coming back and everything but I don't think I was too tentative. I felt good."
Columbus cut the lead to 4-2 with 5:07 left in the second period, when Anisimov wheeled from the left circle and his shot deflected off Fisher's stick over Rinne's shoulder.
Roman Josi added an empty-net, power-play goal with 23.1 seconds left in regulation.
|Taylor Beck (1) ASST: Gabriel Bourque (3), Jonathon Blum (5)|
1 - 0 NSH
|PPG - Shea Weber (6) ASST: Bobby Butler (4), Martin Erat (13)|
2 - 0 NSH
|PPG - R.J. Umberger (6) ASST: Tim Erixon (5)|
2 - 1 NSH
|David Legwand (7) ASST: Gabriel Bourque (4), Taylor Beck (1)|
3 - 1 NSH
|Matt Halischuk (2) ASST: Bobby Butler (5), Chris Mueller (1)|
4 - 1 NSH
|Artem Anisimov (8) ASST: Cam Atkinson (4), Matt Calvert (4)|
4 - 2 NSH
|PPG - EN - Roman Josi (5) ASST: Mike Fisher (8), Martin Erat (14)|
5 - 2 NSH
|Vinny Prospal Hooking against Shea Weber|
|David Legwand Interference against R.J. Umberger|
|Rich Clune Interference (maj) against Artem Anisimov|
|Rich Clune Game misconduct|
|Mike Fisher Interference on goalkeeper against Steve Mason|
|Brandon Yip Fighting (maj) against Derek MacKenzie|
|Derek MacKenzie Fighting (maj) against Brandon Yip|
|Fedor Tyutin Hooking against Brandon Yip|