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Smith's late goal lifts Predators past Jets

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com

NASHVILLE -- Craig Smith scored with 2:02 remaining in regulation to give the Nashville Predators a 2-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena.

"I was happy to see the way we came out and played defensively, and we kept pushing," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said after earning his 400th NHL victory. "Even when the game is tied late, you still want to keep throwing attempts at the net and throwing shots at the net, and it was great that Craig was able to capitalize."

Predators forward Calle Jarnkrok fired a shot that went off a Jets player and landed right on Smith's stick in the left circle. Smith quickly fired a shot that beat Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. The assist was Jarnkrok's first point of the season.

"He's a guy that can really move and make plays," Smith said. "He's been great in the middle. He's able to create chances, not just tonight. He's been creating chances otherwise, and tonight it worked."

James Neal had the other goal for Nashville (11-4-2) and Pekka Rinne made 21 saves, allowing only a first-period goal by Blake Wheeler, to earn his 11th victory. Pavelec finished with 27 saves.

"We knew what we were getting into tonight," Neal said. "In the neutral zone, there wasn't much room and we were trying to put pucks behind them and get there, but with hold-ups and not-good-enough dumps, we were finding it tough. I think that was both ways. We're going to find ourselves in those games throughout the year. I like the way we responded in the third and came out and did a job."

Nashville rookie forward Filip Forsberg's seven-game point streak and six-game goal streak came to an end. He was held without a point for the first time since Oct. 29 at Edmonton.

Winnipeg continued its strong defensive play in the first period, not allowing Nashville a shot on goal for more than eight minutes and holding the Predators scoreless despite two power-play opportunities. Nashville also played a strong period defensively, keeping most of Winnipeg's chances on the outside.

"There weren't a lot of attempts at either net," Laviolette said. "There was no room through the neutral zone either way, and we knew what type of hockey they were playing just based on their record and watching them in pre-scout, having played them recently."

Wheeler put the Jets up 1-0 by scoring a shorthanded goal at 6:57 of the second period. After Predators forward Matt Cullen turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Wheeler raced in and fired a shot over Rinne's glove for his eighth goal of the season and third in two games. Wheeler leads Winnipeg in goals and points (13).

Nashville center Mike Ribeiro appeared to tie the game at 15:37 of the second period, but the goal was disallowed because the puck was played with a high stick. However, Neal scored one goal that counted eight seconds later, one-timing a pass from Ribeiro past Pavelec.

"It was big," Laviolette said. "When it's that tight, sometimes you wonder if a game will end 1-0. It wouldn't be from a lack of our guys trying. It's just there's not a lot of room. There's not a lot of odd-man rushes out there that can happen.

"It appears you tie it up, and it gets taken down. That can sometimes deflate a team or deflate a building and just kind of make it quiet. To come back right away and put life right back into the bench and right back into the building. That was a big goal for us at the time."

Winnipeg had several opportunities in the third period to take the lead, but couldn't beat Rinne before Smith's goal gave Nashville its second win of the season against Winnipeg.

"It was a tight game, just like we thought it would be," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "It was the game we expected. Tough to give them a goal late. We've been really solid and really strong there. I thought in the third period we were better in a lot of areas and had some good chances there, but there just weren't a whole lot to go around in that game."

The Predators had all four power plays in the game. Nashville was not assessed a penalty and has spent the least amount of time on the penalty kill in the league this season at 69:59.

"There were a couple incidents where I was looking for a call," Maurice said.

Winnipeg plays at the Minnesota Wild on Sunday; Nashville is off until it visits the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

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