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Predators hold off Blue Jackets 3-2

NHL.com @NHL

Maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets should have picked another opponent for opening night.

The Nashville Predators continued their dominance of the Jackets as Ryan Suter had a goal and an assist Friday and Craig Smith scored his first NHL goal in a 3-2 victory that spoiled the evening for a sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena.

Another rookie, Matt Halischuk, also scored for the Predators, who are 11-5-2 on Columbus' home ice since 2006-07 and 44-14-5 overall against the Blue Jackets. Pekka Rinne overcame a bout of the flu and made had 29 saves, many of highlight-reel quality while the Blue Jackets were scrambling to catch up before a capacity crowd of 18,247.

"It was just a little stomach flu. It was more precaution, not skating yesterday," said Rinne, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season. "I was just getting my rest and my energy back. Nothing serious."

Nashville coach Barry Trotz didn't notice anything wrong with his No. 1 goaltender.

"He played well," Trotz said. "He probably wanted to get that first one back but he was good the rest of the night."

Columbus captain Rick Nash and Vinny Prospal, one of several newcomers on a remade roster, each scored a goal and added an assist for the Jackets. The biggest name among the newcomers -- center Jeff Carter, acquired from Philadelphia -- assisted on both goals. Carter also won 24 of 31 faceoffs.

Nashville opened the scoring 5:10 into the second period during a power play when Sergei Kostitsyn carried the puck out of the corner and slid a pass to Suter at the left dot for the one-timer past Steve Mason. The Predators got the power play when Columbus' Derek Dorsett was called for closing his gloved hand on the puck while trying to clear it from the zone after losing his stick.

The Blue Jackets tied it at 14:19. Nash dropped a pass to Carter, who fired a shot just from inside the right point. The shot slid off his arm and down the back of his leg toward the goal line. Prospal jammed it in, barely beating teammate Fedor Tyutin to the loose puck.

"I know it's pretty special for some guys to get it on the first night," Smith said. "I was fortunate enough that I got that puck to squeeze through there for me."

But the tie lasted just 97 seconds. Mason stopped a blast by Shea Weber but couldn't control the puck as he fell backwards. It sat on the ice near the goal line, and Smith popped it in for his first NHL goal.

Halischuk's blind backhander beat Mason 39 seconds into the final period made it 3-1. Nash converted a passout from Prospal at 10:19, but Rinne kept the Jackets off the board the rest of the way.

"Pekka Rinne was solid for 60 minutes,” Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. “We were throwing lots of rubber at him, and at the very end there we had some great chances. Both of our goals were guys plowing into the crease area and getting second and third whacks.

“I thought we played hard, but couldn’t find that third one.”

The Predators head for St. Louis, where for the second night in a row they'll be the visiting team at someone else's opening night. Nashville opens with three in a row on the road before playing its first game at Bridgestone Arena -- a fact that Rinne said made this win all the more important.

"It was a good game for us," he said. "It's a big start for the season. It didn't come easy but we played strong. We battled hard. We played with desperation. It was nice to see the young guys stepping up and playing big roles; that's what we need this year."

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