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Predators hold off Sharks for third straight victory

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- Carter Hutton made 36 saves for the Nashville Predators on Saturday, but the save of the game might have belonged to teammate Roman Josi.

The San Jose Sharks had cut the Predators' lead to one when Patrick Marleau scored a sixth-attacker goal at 19:05 of the third period, and they Sharks were swarming for another. With 31 seconds left, Josi blocked Joe Pavelski's wrist shot from 13 feet that was headed for the back of the net, helping to Nashville to hold on for its third straight win.

Josi also scored a power-play goal in 23:52 of ice time, earning the game's first star in the Predators' 3-2 victory over the Sharks at Bridgestone Arena.

"They made a push and I think we have to manage the puck a little better," Josi said. "It was tight. They got some great looks even when they scored 3-2 after that….

"I just stood in front of the net. Huts was down and I knew [Pavelski] was going to try and shoot it high and it just hit me so it was a little lucky."

In a season in which No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne remains out indefinitely with a staph infection in his hip, the Predators will take any luck they can get. They also are making some of their own these days, especially in the form of Hutton's performance the last three games.

This month, he has stopped 106 of 110 shots (a .964 save percentage), giving him a 1.20 goals-against average in the four games he has played. Hutton began his pro career as part of the Sharks' organization, playing 22 games in 2010-11 with their American Hockey League affiliate in Worcester. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season, he served as a "black ace" for the Sharks.

"Obviously a lot of close friends there, I played for a year there," he said. "Me and [Sharks center] Tommy Wingels were roommates in Worcester. So, you know, pretty close and, obviously, pretty big [win]. They have a pretty good team. For us, the biggest thing is establishing our play at home here and getting a huge two points."

Hutton said the Predators bent but didn't break defensively in a game in which they never trailed but allowed two goals in the final 13:32 of regulation.

"That's why they pay him the big bucks, eh?" Hutton said of Josi's block on Pavelski's late shot.

For San Jose, the loss represented the continuation of a rut. The Sharks fell to 1-4-1 in their past six games, during which they have scored 11 goals.

"I think we just decided to skate," Logan Couture said of the late rally that fell short. "That's something we can't do. We can't start slow. We've got to be better on the road. We know how big points are right now so it's a tough loss."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan said his team was not "near aggressive enough" to start the game and felt that by holding Nashville to 23 shots, San Jose should have come away with at least one point in the standings.

"It's amazing in the third when we have to play on the inside a little bit more, get the second chance, keep the forechecks alive, we're a much different team," McLellan said. "Disappointed in the first period and a half to two periods… I thought [Nashville] competed along the walls harder. They took away a lot of time and space from us. Anything that got near the net, we were on the outside. Not going to win like that."

Predators coach Barry Trotz said that was the game plan. He said he knew that Nashville could not compete by trading chances with the Sharks, who entered the game outscoring opponents 42-14 in the first period. However, it was Nashville that left first intermission on top, 1-0.

"We didn't want to be down two goals after one period and then have to play a wide-open game against a team that, quite frankly, I don't think we can match man-for-man in terms of pure offensive power," Trotz said, "but we can match them in other ways in terms of our structure and the way we played and some good energy and lots of commitment and that's what happened."

Nashville defenseman Victor Bartley helped to put his team on top 1-0 at 16:04 of the first period when he wristed a puck at the net from just above the left circle. It caromed off the left leg and then the stick of Predators wing Eric Nystrom, who was stationed in front of the net, before going into the net.

Nashville connected on its first power-play chance of the game with 1:52 left in the second period to grab a 2-0 lead. Nick Spaling won the puck from a scrum along the boards and shoveled it to Craig Smith behind the net. Smith found Josi moving in from the point, and Josi's wrist shot beat Antti Niemi to the glove side.

Smith was playing for the first time in four games. He was a healthy scratch on Dec. 7 and then sat out the next two games with an illness. He ranks third on the team in points with 16.

In the last two games Nashville's power play has gotten hot after a long dry spell. Until the Predators' 3-1 win on Thursday against the Dallas Stars, they had gone six games and 16 attempts without a goal with the man advantage. However, Nashville went 2-for-3 in that game and its only failure came in the final 23 seconds of regulation when the Predators were salting away the victory.

Predators wing Rich Clune helped draw the power play with an aggressive forecheck. He knocked Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart to the ice with a hard check that also separated Stuart from his stick. Knowing he would lose possession, Stuart played the puck with his glove and was called for closing his hand on the puck.

"It's been important," Trotz said of the power play. "It's an important part of our game. We need that to be a threat every night. The last couple of games we've scored important goals. No question. They were throwing it around -- throwing it around with confidence."

Nashville later failed to connect on a third-period power play and the Sharks scored five seconds after it ended. Marleau won the puck behind the net from Predators defenseman Shea Weber, then found Matt Irwin high in the slot. Dan Boyle deflected Irwin's shot between Hutton's legs with 12:32 left in regulation to cut the margin to 2-1.

Viktor Stalberg made it 3-1 with 2:39 left in regulation, calling his own number on a 2-on-1 and beating Niemi (20 saves) low to the glove side.

"The third one I'm sure he'd like to have back," McLellan said of Niemi.

With Niemi pulled, Marleau redirected Boyle's pass behind Hutton with 54.6 seconds left in regulation to cut the deficit to one goal.


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