VANCOUVER - After four years of toiling in the American Hockey League, Dan Ellis was beginning to think he'd never get another shot to crack an NHL team.
In fact, he was set to quit North American hockey altogether. But now, just four months after the Nashville Predators signed him as a free agent, the 27-year-old rookie is one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL.
Ellis made 29 saves on Thursday for his second shutout in three starts and David Legwand and Martin Erat scored goals 2:06 apart early in the first period to lead the Predators (5-7-0) to a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
Jason Arnott notched a goal with eight seconds remaining and J.P. Dumont added two assists for Nashville, which was outshot 29-15 but still managed to earn its first road victory of the season - in large part thanks to Ellis.
"When you get a little bit older, I'm 27 now, you kind of see that window of opportunity starting to close," said Ellis, whose only previous NHL experience was one start - a victory - for the Dallas Stars during the 2003-04 season. "This was almost my last kick at the can before I ditched off to Europe and stuff like that. Thank God that I got the opportunity to come here to Nashville and that they had the faith in me to give me a chance."
For the Canucks, the frustrating loss was compounded by the loss of two of their best defencemen.
Both Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo were taken to hospital with injuries. Bieksa suffered a lacerated right calf when he was cut by the skate of Predator Vernon Fiddler during the second period.
"There's a pretty deep cut there, with the (calf) muscle," coach Alain Vigneault said after the game.
Salo, who was playing only his fourth game after returning to the lineup after a wrist injury, was hit in the face by puck shot by teammate Alex Edler. Salo went down and bled profusely before being helped off the ice.
Vigneault said Salo, who missed nine games after being injured in an intra-squad game, was hit in the orbital bone around the eye and his nose.
The Canucks began Thursday's tilt with several quality chances, but Ellis held his team in the game.
He stopped Daniel Sedin on a pair of in-close shots on the first shift, then robbed Byron Ritchie with a left pad save on a rebound a few minutes later.
Ellis's early dominance gave the Predators a chance to regroup from their iffy start, and the team made good on that opportunity.
Legwand opened scoring on a power play 6:16 in, circling at the top of the right faceoff circle and snapping a shot through an unscreened Roberto Luongo's legs.
Erat added to the lead on a transition play, sneaking behind Salo and Mattias Ohlund and beating Luongo with a backhand deke between the legs.
The goals quickly silenced the sellout crowd of 18,630, which gave Luongo the Bronx cheer the next time he handled the puck.
The crowd usually chants 'Lou' for Luongo, but on this occasion there were clearly several boos.
"It was a bad goal," Luongo said of Legwand's openeing score. "He shot through the D-man's leg and I was slow to react. It was probably one of my first bad goals of the season that I can remember. Unfortunately it wasn't a good time for it."
"We're very frustrated as a group," added Canucks forward Brendan Morrison. "It's contagious. Winning's contagious, losing's contagious and you don't want to get in that mindset."
Heading into Vancouver, the Predators had a league-worst 0-5-0 record away from home and had been outscored by a whopping 21-3 margin.
On Thursday, they looked like road warriors against a Canucks team that has been atrocious on home ice. Vancouver now sports a 1-6-0 home record, last in the 30-team league.
The Canucks looked disorganized, lethargic and were often beaten to loose pucks against the hungry Predators.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault tried everything he could to spark his team's anemic offence - he even separated the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, for much of the third period - but nothing seemed to work.
When Vancouver did manage to test Ellis with a quality chance, he was equal to the task.
The Orangeville, Ont., native saved three of his best stops for the third period, foiling Markus Naslund on a spin-a-rama attempt, Ohlund on a 4-on-2 rush and Morrison from about 15 feet out with the score 2-0 late in the third period.
"Elly was good," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz. "Danny's really getting his first opportunity at the NHL level, and one of the things we talked about is when you get that opportunity you try to make it hard for the coach to send you back down (to the AHL) and he's doing a really good job. He's seeing the puck very well.
"Everything's falling into place for him."
NOTES: Canuck defender Willie Mitchell, who hurt his ankle during practice on Wednesday, suited up for the game. ... Canuck rookie Jannik Hansen played his first game of this NHL campaign after being called up from the AHL's Manitoba Moose on Wednesday. ... Dumont played despite breaking his left ring finger during Tuesday night's 5-1 loss in Calgary.