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Mazanec, Predators blank Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz said his team's recent success, which now includes five wins in six games following a 4-0 victory Wednesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, is the result of a team effort.

That team effort was on display against Columbus when the Predators got goals from four players and turned in a defensive performance that limited the Blue Jackets to 19 shots on goal, including four in the first period when Matt Cullen scored the only goal Nashville needed.

But that group-wide effort might be best exemplified by Trotz's goaltending trio.

The Predators could have been in trouble when starter Pekka Rinne went on injured reserve a month ago with a hip infection, but instead Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec have stepped up. The Predators went into the game Wednesday at Nationwide Arena with the unusual statistic of having three goalies with four wins in the team's first 24 games.

That changed when Mazanec picked up the second shutout and fifth win of his rookie season. The first shutout came in a 27-save performance in a 2-0 victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 19.

"The first 30 minutes, it was pretty quiet back there [for Mazanec]," Trotz said. "It was a pretty easy night for him.

"It was sort of a team win. We defended hard. We had some critical blocked shots when we needed, won battles, and then Maz made some saves when we needed."

Nashville (13-10-2) was nearly flawless after Cullen's goal. Nashville padded its lead with goals in the second period by Mike Fisher and David Legwand and in the third by Nick Spaling.

The Blue Jackets (9-13-3) didn't reach double figures in shots until 90 seconds remained in the second period, when they were in the midst of their first power play, but the Predators increased their successful kills to 20 in a row over the past six games.

"They did a good job blocking shots, keeping us away from the net," Blue Jackets forward Mark Letestu said. "But we've got to find a way to get the forwards to find another level and create more offense.

"We're not concerned about the amount of shots, but maybe the quality of opportunities tonight wasn't what we wanted."

Fisher made it 2-0 on the power play 56 seconds into the second with the aid of a fortuitous bounce. The original shot from the blue line by Roman Josi hit a bevy of players in front of the goalmouth, including Gabriel Bourque. The puck landed in front of Fisher, who whacked it past Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for his fifth goal.

"A real big goal for us was getting that quick power play," Trotz said. "That gave us the momentum for a good period."

A turnover by Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson allowed Legwand to skate through the crease and score at 8:56. Viktor Stalberg and Bourque picked up assists on Legwand's fifth goal.

"Our defensive game was really good, and that's where the offensive part of our game evolves from," Trotz said.

At that point, the Predators held a 22-6 advantage in shots on goal.

Columbus coach Todd Richards feared a letdown after a 6-0 win at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, and he saw it as the Blue Jackets' Jekyll and Hyde persona resurfaced. On their five-game trip through Canada, they lost twice by a combined 13-2 score and won three times by outscoring the opposition 12-2.

"It looked like we lacked some energy, we lacked another step," Richards said. "But that's not an excuse. There's a way to win that game tonight, and we didn't find it."

"We didn't help ourselves with a couple of penalties. We lost a lot of battles along the wall for pucks," he added. "We weren't good enough early on in the game."

The Predators jumped on the Blue Jackets from the opening puck drop, and Cullen gave the Predators a hard-earned lead at 9:58 as they applied constant pressure on Bobrovsky, who finished with 25 saves.

Cullen snuck behind defenseman Ryan Murray low in the right circle and waited for a pass from Ryan Ellis. The defenseman obliged as he faked a slap shot from the left point before drilling a pass to Cullen for the first of his two assists.

"It was just a simple play," Ellis said. "The guy came out. He did a great job to get in my way of shooting so my only option was to throw it away or find Cullen."

Cullen fired a one-timer that reached the back of the net before Bobrovsky could slide across the crease. It was his fifth goal of the season.

"It was a great play by Ellie to fake the shot and hit me through the seam," Cullen said. "Not a lot of D-men can make that play."

The goal was the start of a long night for the Blue Jackets.

"When you come home [after a long road trip], you're a little more relaxed because you're finally home. Maybe the energy wasn't there," Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski said. "We worked. We just didn't have that little extra gear that you can win that little extra battle with."

Spaling closed out the scoring with his fourth goal of the season at 2:02 of the third period.

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