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Kostitsyn leads Predators past Oilers

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE – Eight days ago, Nashville Predators left wing Sergei Kostitsyn suffered through a nightmarish game against the Edmonton Oilers.

On Monday, Kostitsyn picked up a goal – his first since Feb. 14, a span of 14 games -- and an assist against the very same Oilers in Nashville's 3-2 win at Bridgestone Arena.

"Felt pretty good and felt better that we got three wins in a row," Kostitsyn said of his goal.

On March 17 in Edmonton, Kostitsyn became the subject of ridicule across North America for giving up on a play and going for a line change. The decision led to a 2-on-1 for Edmonton and turned into a shorthanded, go-ahead goal in the third period as the Oilers prevailed, 3-2.

Predators coach Barry Trotz scratched Kostitsyn in the next game – one day before the player's 26th birthday -- to hold him accountable. Since then, Kostitsyn, who led Nashville in goals and points in 2010-11, has gone a total of plus-3 in three games, finishing even or better in each.

In fact, life has improved enough for the Belarusian, who struggles at times with his English, to joke about his misfortune.

Asked if it were good to have a solid game against the team that has misdeed occurred against, he responded, "It was against Edmonton? I didn't remember that."

Just like his joke, his assist showed perfect timing. Taking advantage of an Edmonton breakdown, he held the puck with poise in the Oilers' zone, then found streaking defenseman Kevin Klein wide open for an easy tap in at 4:31 of the second period. Klein, who has three points in his last two games, called it a fantastic play by Kostitsyn, saying the wing showed "great patience with the puck" for "probably the easiest goal I've ever scored."

"Ever since he returned, he returned better, you know what I mean?" Klein said of Kostitsyn. "It's one of those things where it could go either way. He could feel sorry for himself, but he didn't. He came back and played great for us since he's been back. More credit to him."

In the first period, Kostitsyn tied the game at 1-1 at 11:51. Mike Fisher dug the puck out of the corner and delivered a flawless saucer pass into the goalmouth, where Kostitsyn slammed it past Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk. Fisher has a seven-game points streak (eight points in total). Martin Erat had the secondary assist on that goal, his first of two on the night, giving him six points in his last three games.

The win was Nashville's third in a row, as the Predators continue to dominate at home, improving to 9-2-4.

"We weren't really pleased with our start, actually," Edmonton coach Ralph Krueger said. "Even though we did come out and kill the penalty and we got a lead and all. We thought we needed a more aggressive start here tonight. We went especially flat in the second period. Our 5-on-5 game just didn't have enough passion in it to match what Nashville was coming with. If you are going to take a positive, it would be the reaction in the third. We had at least 12-13 scoring chances in the third period, enough to tie this and get points out of the game. It is not enough to play in Nashville for 20 minutes. You've got to come here to play 60 minutes and we didn't do that and it's a painful result."

Earlier in the period, Edmonton capitalized on Patric Hornqvist's goaltender interference penalty at 7:42 of the first period to earn the game's first goal. Oilers center Shawn Horcoff screened Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne as Corey Potter's slap shot from the point was redirected by Taylor Hall into the net 11 seconds after the call.

Nashville made it 3-1 at 11:33 of the second when Chris Mueller, sent in in alone by Brandon Yip, ripped a wrist shot high over Dubnyk (23 saves).

In that second period, Edmonton center Eric Belanger suffered a groin injury period and did not return.

Edmonton cut the lead to 3-2 at 7:03 of the third period when a puck went off Horcoff's skate and trickled through Rinne, who made 24 saves to earn his 13th win.

In the final minute, as Edmonton pulled Dubynk for an extra attacker, Kostitsyn was among the players that Trotz put on the ice to seal the victory. Trotz was asked if he wants Kostitsyn to concentrate more on defense, as the player also killed penalties on Monday.

"Sergei's almost the smartest guy we have defensively, if not the smartest," Trotz said. "He has good awareness around him. He has a great stick. He holds ice and doesn't drift and get sucked to the puck when he doesn't need to, so I have a lot of faith in him defensively and, killing penalties, he's the same way."

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