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Fisher helps Preds beat Avs

by John Manasso
ASHVILLE, Tenn. – With one game in the books, Predators coach Barry Trotz said Mike Fisher is "as advertised."

In a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena, Fisher, making his debut as a Predator after being acquired from Ottawa earlier this week, assisted on an empty-net goal, won 12 of 16 faceoffs and ended up plus-2 in 18:10 of ice time.

"That's the Mike Fisher I remember," Trotz said. "He was strong on draws, hard to play against and then, as much as anything, they didn’t have a lot of shots, but he broke up a couple huge plays and you can see why he was a Selke finalist a few years back. A real bright guy. Came in here, I know he wasn’t very rested because he's been traveling all over, but he came in and did a great job for us.

"That line was very effective for us tonight."

The win for Nashville, starting the day sixth in the Western Conference, was its third in five games while Colorado continues to plummet towards the bottom of the conference standings. The Avs lost their seventh straight in regulation – their longest since the franchise relocated from Quebec – and for the ninth time in 10 games, all in regulation.

Peter Forsberg played his second game in two nights for the Avs, but he did not like his game and finished minus-2 for the second straight night while also taking two minor penalties.

The Avs were badly outshot, 39-18, as they battled through a number of lineup decisions and issues. Coach Joe Sacco sat right wing Chris Stewart, who has 29 points in 34 games but is a team-worst minus-11, and also benched high-scoring defenseman John-Michael Liles for the first period. Defensemen Adam Foote and Jonas Holos also were out, forcing the Avs to call up 20-year-old Cameron Gaunce, who was even in 11:11 in his NHL debut.

Sacco would not elaborate on the Liles or Stewart decisions, saying "it's pretty self-explanatory" and that he went with the lineup that he thought gave his team the best chance to win.

"We're looking for ways just to get a win right now," Sacco said. "I thought even though the ice was tilted a little bit in their favor, we're still in position where we can force the game, at least, into overtime and grab one point, possibly two, but we can't turn the puck over. We turn it over one too many times and it ends up in the back of our net."

That turnover came in the Avs' end and Cody Franson turned it into an unassisted goal in the form of a wrist shot from more than 50 feet away.

The game was knotted at 2-2 entering the third period despite an enormous edge in shots by Nashville, 28-9. The Avs took the lead quickly in the third when Matt Duchene, skating down the left wing, rifled a slap shot over Pekka Rinne's blocker and just inside the post at 2:54 of the period.

Patric Hornqvist answered at 4:11, with a wrist shot from the slot after taking a pass from David Legwand, who was behind the net.

Despite being badly outplayed to start in terms of zone time, Colorado earned the game's first goal. The Avs' Paul Stastny scooped up Colin Wilson's neutral zone turnover and started a 2-on-1 with Kevin Porter. Stastny went wide to the right and hit Porter down the middle with a pass and Porter made a nice move to beat Rinne with 8:55 left in the first period for Porter’s 10th goal.

Nashville tied the game 11 seconds later. Martin Erat set up Shea Weber for a long wrist shot and Fisher screened Peter Budaj to get the goal, Weber's 11th.

Fisher centered a line with Sergei Kostitsyn at left wing and Martin Erat at right wing. Marcel Goc, who sat out with an injury, had centered that line and Trotz said it had been one of Nashville's best for a long time.

"Obviously, Mike fit in there real well," Trotz said.

Trotz seemed to match Fisher's line often against Forsberg's.

"It was definitely an exciting game for me," said Fisher, who played in front of his wife, Nashville-based country music star Carrie Underwood on Saturday, his first game in 11 NHL seasons that was not in the uniform of the Ottawa Senators. "(I had) a lot of nerves early, that’s for sure, but I kind of calmed down and got into it. I thought the guys played really well and responded. It was obviously a big game for us and it was just a lot of fun to be a part of, for sure."

Fisher received big ovations from the crowd both on his first shift – the Preds' second shift of the game -- and then at 12:41 when his image was put on the jumbotron during a stoppage.

Nashville took its first lead early in the second. With David Jones in the penalty box for hooking Ryan Suter, Hornqvist, skating below the goal line, threw a pass in front of the net to Erat, who didn't get the goal on his first shot but chopped at the rebound for his second goal in two games at 4:36 to put Nashville up 2-1. Despite being called out by Trotz by name earlier in the week for a lack of scoring, Erat has three goals and three assists in his last seven games.

Outshot at the time by 17-7, Colorado tied the game at 2-2 with 10:55 left in the second as Jones got his 19th goal of the season from close range, as three Preds defenders stood by unable to get to him in time.
David Legwand added an empty-net goal with 45.2 seconds left with Fisher earning an assist.
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