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Predators rally by Capitals, spoil Trotz's return

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com

NASHVILLE -- James Neal scored with 1:40 left in the third period to give the Nashville Predators a 4-3 win against the Washington Capitals and spoil the return of coach Barry Trotz to Bridgestone Arena on Friday.

Neal forced a turnover on the forecheck by Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen and beat goaltender Braden Holtby for his second goal of the game.

"I think we did a good job of [being on the forecheck] all night with a team like that who has a ton of offensive guys that are great getting up in the rush and making plays," Neal said. "I think we did a good job in the neutral zone, and our forecheck was great all night."

Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm tied the game 3-3 with 4:29 remaining in the third period with a one-timer on a power play. Seth Jones delivered a pass to Ekholm in the right faceoff circle that he was able to shoot past Holtby.

"I knew with [Ryan Ellis] going out (injured), someone has to step in there," Ekholm said. "I was just trying to make the most of it. I think it's been pretty good so far, just trying to keep it simple and shoot the puck. It was nice to see it go in."

Nashville (30-9-4) is 18-2-1 at home. Washington (24-12-8) had a three-game winning streak end and lost in regulation for the second time in 20 games (14-2-4).

"It was a good hockey game," Trotz said. "Just like always, the [Predators] come out real hard. I thought they had us a little bit on our heels in the first, and we tried to stabilize that and made a couple adjustments. I thought after that, being down 2-0, I thought we showed a lot of character.

"Got it to 3-2 and I felt we were taking the game over, playing our style a little bit more than their style. I thought we took a little bit of a poor penalty. Once they got it tied up, as I've been in this building many times, that seventh man. You get a lot of energy in the building. One of our defensemen just misplayed the puck there. I felt we should have got a point but we didn't, and that's just the magic of this building right now."

Trotz was in Nashville as the opposing coach for the first time since being fired by the Predators after last season. He won 557 games with them in 15 seasons.

"I had some butterflies going out there," Trotz said. "A lot of good memories. Every time I walked out there, the fans were so great, so I want to thank them. They were absolutely tremendous tonight to me."

A tribute video to Trotz was played during the first timeout in the first period. The crowd responded with a standing ovation, and Trotz responded with a wave.

"It was very, very touching," Trotz said. "It was a classy gesture by the organization. The fans are always great. Keep it rolling, it's a wonderful place to play. It's a hard building to play in right now. You talk about the Coliseum, I think [St. Louis Blues coach] Ken Hitchcock was the first guy that used to talk about it. If you're playing on a Saturday night, or in this case Friday night, in Nashville, Tennessee with a packed house, it's like the Roman Coliseum."

Jones gave the Predators a 1-0 lead at 16:16 of the first period. The defenseman created a shooting lane from the point and snapped a puck that went off Holtby into the net.

Neal gave Nashville a 2-0 lead 1:50 into the second period on a tap-in goal. Defenseman Victor Bartley's shot deflected off forward Mike Fisher onto Neal's stick.

Alex Ovechkin got the Capitals within 2-1 on a one-timer from the left faceoff circle. Defenseman Karl Alzner made the pass that Ovechkin blasted from a tough angle to beat Nashville goaltender Carter Hutton.

Hutton made 31 saves in his first win of the season, starting his first game since Pekka Rinne was sidelined 3-5 weeks because of a sprained knee.

"[Hutton] was great," Neal said. "Some big saves at big times in the game. It's been frustrating for him in the last few games trying to get a win, and guys battled tonight for him. I'm happy for a guy like that who plays behind Pekka but battles every day. A lot of people don't see how hard he works."

Ovechkin scored again, on a power play at 6:18 of the second period, to tie the game 2-2. Defenseman Mike Green passed the puck to Ovechkin in the faceoff circle, and he slapped it past Hutton for his 24th goal of the season.

Marcus Johansson gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead 2:38 into the third period on a power-play goal. The forward had multiple chances in the crease and was finally able to jam the puck past Hutton's pad.

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