NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Scott Hartnell only wanted to flip the puck at the net as he skated near the blue line. On a night where the Nashville Predators celebrated the return of the NHL, it was only fitting that something unscripted capped the well-planned party.
Hartnell broke a tie with 4:13 left Wednesday night, and Tomas Vokoun stopped 22 shots to help the Nashville Predators beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in the season opener for both teams. Hartnell called it a lucky goal and was just happy to be back in the NHL after a year away because of the lockout.
``I played overseas, but nothing ever compares to this league. It's the best league in the world, and people all over the world come to play,'' Hartnell said.
Paul Kariya scored his first goal in a Nashville uniform as the Predators rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the third period, and Scott Walker also scored for the small-market team whose owner helped negotiate the new labor deal designed to bring more parity to the NHL.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz also appreciates the rules changes that he thinks gives teams a chance to rally late.
``The comebacks are very few and far between with the old rules. But now you get to keep coming at people,'' he said.
Ryan Suter, Nashville's top draft pick in 2003, had an assist in his NHL debut, and Steve Sullivan, David Legwand and Danny Markov also had assists.
Nils Ekman and Patrick Marleau scored for San Jose, the lone unbeaten team in the preseason. The Sharks have 20 players back from the roster that went to the 2004 Western Conference finals.
San Jose coach Ron Wilson wasn't very happy with how the Sharks lost nearly 70 percent of the faceoffs or how they skated.
``We made some critical errors, mental blunders and in the third they took advantage and that's why we lost,'' Wilson said.
But Kariya, the biggest free agent signee in Predators history, tied it at 2 at 1:10 of the third, beating Evgeni Nabokov off a rebound.
Then Hartnell scored the winning goal as he skated across the ice near the blue line and flipped the puck through the slot under Nabokov's right leg. Nabokov said he never saw the puck.
``The pace was weird,'' said Nabokov, who stopped 22 shots. ``It was the first game of the season, but they were as fast as we are, and that's something we have to deal with.''
That put the perfect touch on the Predators' welcome back party that included a band outside, miniature Stanley Cups for all and ``Thank you Fans!'' written on the ice near both blue lines.
They had a fan drop the puck for a ceremonial faceoff and even gave 20 fans the sweaters off the Predators' back after the game.
Fans cheered whenever Kariya, a seven-time All-Star, touched the puck in the opening minutes. Walker scored at 8:24 of the first off assists by Sullivan and Suter for a 1-0 lead.
Marleau tied it on a short-handed goal with 7 seconds left, beating the sprawling Vokoun with a backhander on a breakaway.
Ekman put the Sharks up 2-1 with a wrister past Vokoun at 7:09 of the second on an assist from Michalek.
Appropriately, Suter was on the ice awaiting a faceoff when a clip from the movie ``Miracle'' played on the video board overhead. His father, Bob, played on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team featured in that movie and was in the stands for his son's first NHL game.
Notes: Hartnell extended his points streak to four straight games dating to the last season. He also has goals in three straight regular season games. ... The Predators evened their record against the Sharks to 6-6-1 at home with the series 11-12-2 overall.