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Neal leads Predators past Senators in shootout

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- James Neal scored two goals in regulation and had the deciding goal in the shootout to lead the Nashville Predators to a 4-3 victory against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday.

Neal skated in and scored on a forehand shot to the stick side of Senators goaltender Craig Anderson for the victory.

The Predators (4-1-0) bounced back from a 4-3 loss at the New York Islanders on Thursday and finished off their three-game road trip 2-1-0. The Senators (3-2-1) lost their second in a row in the opener of a four-game homestand.

"It was a good road trip," Neal said. "We talked about it going into the third period; you can have one win and two losses going home, so that was a huge third period for us. We had a good win in New Jersey (3-1 on Tuesday) and I thought we played our best game of the year in Long Island and didn't get a win, so to come in here and pull one out was good."

Nashville goaltender Carter Hutton, making his first start of the season, made 38 saves through overtime and stopped two of three shots in the shootout. Anderson made 22 saves in 65 minutes but was beaten twice in three shootout attempts.

"At some points tonight we were kind of back on our heels, but we stuck with it," Hutton said. "At this point, just getting the win and going home 2-1 instead of 1-2 is a big difference.

"For the first one of the year, it's definitely nice to get a win under my belt."

Ottawa's Mike Hoffman tied the game 3-3 at 16:28 of the third period with his second goal of the game, both on slap shots from near the blue line. Mark Stone also scored for Ottawa. Hoffman and Stone each had an assist and Kyle Turris had two assists.

Neal scored twice for the Predators on the power play on remarkably similar plays in which he powered his way out of the corner to Anderson's left and jammed the puck into the net. The second one, at 11:36 of the third period, gave the Predators a 3-2 lead.

The first one opened the scoring, with Predators defenseman Roman Josi sending the puck down low to Neal. It worked that time; why not try it again later?

"[Josi] made a good play to get it down to me, and I think [Anderson] went for the poke check on the second one," Neal said. "I think he was anticipating I was going to do it again. It worked. It was nice to see it go in."

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said those goals were Neal at his best, using his size and strength to get to the net.

"He's been picking up his pace, moving his legs. He's been physical on pucks, strong on the puck and those were two good examples, getting it down low and slamming it to the far post," he said. "Those were good power moves for a guy like him. He's been really noticeable the last few games."

Craig Smith also scored for the Predators. He tied the game 2-2 at 17:57 of the second period after Nashville center Mike Ribeiro won a battle for the puck inside the Ottawa line. Ribeiro got the puck to Smith in the slot, and Smith beat Anderson for his third goal of the season.

The Senators had taken a 2-1 lead on goals by Stone 15 seconds into the second period and Hoffman at 12:47. Stone took a pass in the slot from Turris on the left wing boards, made a nice move to his backhand to go around Hutton and put the puck into the net on the stick side for his second of the season.

Hoffman scored his second of the season when he took a pass from Stone in the neutral zone and skated just over the Nashville blue line. His slap shot appeared to deflect off the stick of Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis and eluded Hutton's glove.

It was the first time in five games this season that the Senators outshot an opponent.

"Give credit to Hutton there, he played pretty good," Hoffman said. "But it's a good thing we got one late to tie it up and at least come out of this game with something. One [point] is a lot better than zero."

Ottawa coach Dave Cameron said it was the Senators' best effort of the season.

"That's the way it goes over the course of 82 games," he said. "You're going to play games where you think you deserved better. I thought we deserved better tonight, but give Nashville credit. The other games you don't play so well you win, so those things balance out.

Senators defenseman Marc Methot missed the game because of the flu. He was replaced in the lineup by rookie Chris Wideman, who played in his first NHL game.

Ellis left the game in the third period after blocking a shot with his right leg. He was helped off the ice and didn't return. The Predators said he has a lower-body injury and will be evaluated after the team returns to Nashville.

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