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Smith, Predators pull away from Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette was clairvoyant before the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Monday.

When told that Columbus coach Todd Richards had the Blue Jackets prepared for a low-scoring game because of the two goaltenders involved, Laviolette said the Predators were coming in with a different mindset.

Instead of aiming for six chances and a goal or two, "I'd rather have 36 chances and six of them count, if we could," Laviolette said following Nashville's morning skate.

He was close.

The Predators had 35 shots in a 5-1 victory.

Craig Smith had two goals for Nashville (22-8-2), and Pekka Rinne made 30 saves, carrying a shutout for more than 55 minutes.

The Predators chased Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who had not lost in nine games in December, after the second of three goals in a 2:14 span of the third period made the score 4-0.

Colin Wilson and Smith scored 1:38 apart in the second period for a 2-0 lead. Seth Jones, Smith and Mike Fisher had goals in the third.

"At 2-0, the game's up for grabs," Laviolette said. "The next goal, it's either 2-1 or 3-0. That's a huge swing in momentum for someone. It was nice to get it, then get another one."

Columbus (14-16-3) suffered its first regulation loss in 10 games. The Blue Jackets entered 8-0-1 in their previous nine, with the previous six decided past 60 minutes, one game shy of the NHL record.

Rinne lost a chance for his fourth shutout with 4:22 to play when rookie center Alexander Wennberg scored a power-play goal to make it 5-1. It was the first career goal for Wennberg, the 14th pick at the 2013 NHL Draft, in his 23rd game.

"It's a big relief. I've had a lot of chances," Wennberg said. "It is a confidence boost, and I hope there's many more."

The Blue Jackets felt they had scored a goal on Rinne early in the first period when left wing Nick Foligno took a rebound and skated in front of the net before putting the puck into the net.

But it was taken off the board after the Situation Room ruled that Rinne knocked the goal off the right peg before Foligno shot the puck.

"It was tough getting that goal disallowed at the start there," Columbus center Ryan Johansen said. "It was an unfortunate play. It didn't go our way. It didn't seem like we could get anything going after that."

Rinne initially thought Columbus had scored.

"I felt it was a goal, 100 percent, because I didn't even know the net was off its moorings," he said. "It wasn't intentional. I just threw my body on that side. It was a rebound. He had an empty net, so I tried to get it full power push as hard as I could.

"We got lucky there. That would have been a bad start."

The Predators took advantage of the break and used their speed for the goals in the second period.

Wilson opened the scoring with 12:13 remaining in the second by taking a pass from defenseman Victor Bartley in full stride. He was in alone when he beat Bobrovsky for his sixth goal.

Smith completed a two-man rush off a feed by Mike Ribeiro to make it 2-0 at 9:25.

"We put some great shots on net," Smith said. "Our D did a fantastic job on making plays out of the defensive zone to give us time to make some plays."

The third period belonged to the Predators after Rinne made consecutive saves on a Brandon Dubinsky shot and Cam Atkinson's attempt on the rebound from the slot to preserve the Predators' 2-0 lead. Less than a minute later, with 12:47 remaining, Jones scored his first of the season.

"We knew the first two periods weren't good enough," Jones said. "We knew we had another gear; two, three more gears even. We came in the third and pretty much took it to them."

Smith scored his second of the game 44 seconds later from the right dot off a pass from rookie Filip Forsberg. Smith has 10 goals.

Richards pulled Bobrovsky, who made 26 saves, after the goal to show his displeasure with the other players.

"That was not Sergei. Not at all," Richards said. "It had nothing to do with his play."

Columbus backup Curtis McElhinney allowed the goal by Fisher on the first shot he saw. It was Fisher's third.

McElhinney made four saves on five shots.

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