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Smith scores twice to lead Predators past Oilers

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers are having a tough time against teams in their own conference.

The Oilers' struggles against Western Conference opponents continued Wednesday in a 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators at Rexall Place. Edmonton remains winless against the West, but reeled off four straight victories against Eastern Conference opponents.

"It's unfortunate we can't beat teams in our conference, we get zero points and they get two and get a leg up on us," Oilers left wing Taylor Hall said. "It's tough. [Wednesday] wasn't really an effort that deserved two points, but at times during the game, it was there to be taken. Unfortunately, we gave up a lead and couldn't get it back."

Nashville center Craig Smith had two goals and left wing Taylor Beck and defenseman Shea Weber each had one. Hall scored for the Oilers.

"We are in the West and we have to find a way to beat the Western teams," Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "A lot of the Western teams play a different style than they do in the East, but we are not getting out of this conference and we don't want to. I know we can play with them and we just have to find a way to beat them. There is no need to panic right now."

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne made 26 saves for his sixth win of the season. Ben Scrivens stopped 31 shots for the Oilers.

Edmonton went into the game looking for their first five-game winning streak since March 26-April 3, 2013.

The Oilers appeared to fall behind early at 1:35 of the first period after Smith poked the puck past Scrivens following a scramble in front. The goal, however, was waved off; referees ruled the whistle was in the process of being blown before the puck crossed the goal line.

"It was a tough call," Smith said. "I think last time we were in this building we had one taken away from us. But we felt good, we had another good chance right away and that's what you have to build on."

Smith did score at 6:23 of the second period, getting to a rebound in front of the net and lifting a shot over Scrivens.

"I think using our speed and getting the puck up to our forwards is key," Weber said. "Our forwards can really skate and using their wide speed, they pushed their defense back and made some good plays."

Nashville extended its lead at 7:49 on another quick transition rush. Colin Wilson took a long outlet pass, gained the Oilers' zone and hit a streaking Beck for a tap-in.

"The Predators are a hard-working team and they don't make too many mistakes out there," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We usually play pretty well against these guys though. I thought if we had managed to bear down and buried some of our chances and limited our mistakes it would have been a lot closer. The chances were definitely there."

Early in the period, Nugent-Hopkins came close to giving the Oilers the lead, snapping a shot over Rinne and off the crossbar. Initially a goal was awarded but the call was reversed following a review.

Weber increased the Predators' lead 24 seconds into the third period on a point shot that beat a screened Scrivens to make it 3-0.

"We came in here and did a pretty good job," Weber said. "That's a hot team, they had won four in a row. We knew we had to be ready. We didn't get the call early on and we stuck with it. The second period wasn't our best, but we got a couple of goals there and were able to get one early in the third and put them out of it."

Hall scored at 8:54 when he put a long rebound kicked to him by Rinne on a shot from Nugent-Hopkins past the Predators goaltender.

Smith scored his second of the game at 12:24, taking a pass from Matt Cullen on a 2-on-1 break and snapping it past Scrivens. Cullen made his season debut after being out of the lineup because of an upper-body injury.

"[Smith's] line was terrific," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "If you think about it, they came out right from the start, their first three shifts were outstanding and they pushed all night long and looked to push the pace and looked to generate."

The Oilers conclude their seven-game homestand Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks; the Predators play the Calgary Flames in the second of a six-game road trip Friday.

The Oilers announced after the game they assigned right wing Luke Gazdic and goaltender Richard Bachman to the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League. Gazdic will go on a conditioning assignment; Bachman is returning to the AHL to make way for goaltender Viktor Fasth, who was out of the lineup because of a groin injury.

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