After missing four games with a sore ankle, Adam Hall returned to the Nashville Predators lineup Tuesday night and paid instant dividends by scoring the go-ahead goal in a 3-2 Predators win over the Los Angeles Kings at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Nashville collected its fourth straight win despite a poor second-period performance and a late five-minute major penalty to Scott Hartnell that had the Predators on their heels in the final moments as they clung to the one goal lead.
Paul Kariya and Kimmo Timonen each tallied a goal and an assist in the victory, and the Nashville power play continued to click with two goals in four opportunities. With the win, Nashville completed the sweep of its four-game homestand and improved its season record to 12-2-3.
"We got a great goaltending performance in the second period by Tomas Vokoun," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. "And we got a big goal from Adam Hall coming back. I think special teams were real big for us tonight. The power play got us a couple of goals and the penalty kill was perfect. Obviously when you have a good goaltender you can cover up for a lot of mistakes.
"I thought our second period was probably the worst defensively we've played all year...," Trotz continued. "We found a way to win. That's pretty encouraging."
For the third game in a row, Nashville gave up the first goal and came back to win. The Predators are 8-0-1 this season when their opponent scores first. Forward Eric Belanger posted the opener at 3:41, beating a Predators defender to the outside before cutting in front of Vokoun and putting the puck around him. The score remained 1-0 until the 14:24 mark of the period, when Nashville answered with a power play goal by Kariya. A shot by Timonen rebounded to Kariya, who put the puck over Garon from the right circle.
Roughly five minutes later and at even strength, Kariya lofted the puck toward Timonen in the slot. The Predators defenseman swung his stick for a deflection that completely changed the puck's trajectory and sent it past Garon for Timonen's third goal in four games. Nashville outshot L.A. 12-10 in the period and took the 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Los Angeles answered with a goal 8:13 into the second period to tie the game, but would have had more if not for the outstanding play of Vokoun. The Kings peppered the Predators goalie with 22 shots during the middle frame--compared to nine by Nashville--and poured on the pressure in the final five minutes of the period with two power play opportunities. One particularly key save by Vokoun came at 17:13 as he squelched an L.A. flurry that grew in intensity as Nashville's tiring penalty killers were stranded in their own zone during a long, whistle-free stretch of play.
"We were all around there that one power play and we just couldn't get by [Vokoun]," said Kings left wing Jeff Cowan. "We were working hard to put it in the net, but he played awesome."
The Predators managed to take a 2-2 tie into the third period. Midway through the final stanza, L.A. defenseman Aaron Miller was called for holding and Nashville was awarded its second power play of the night. The Predators again capitalized, getting the go-ahead goal from Hall at 11:44.
The play that led to Hall's goal began in the right corner of the offensive zone, where Ryan Suter ringed the puck hard around the boards and over to the left side. There Danny Markov picked it up along the wall and carried it deeper into the left corner. Markov then sent the puck to Hall at the left side of the L.A. net, and Hall spun around on his forehand and put a shot to the far side of Garon.
"They forced Markov outside on the power play and he just kind of put it down low there because they were forcing him," Hall said. "I just tried to take it to the net and create something there. It just ended up going in."
Nashville was unable to pad the lead during a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Sean Avery that followed at 13:26. Seconds after Avery's sentence expired, Hartnell was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding. That put the Predators a man down for the remainder of regulation, and the manpower disadvantage increased to two men when the Kings pulled Garon for an extra attacker. Strong play by Nashville's penalty killers and Vokoun preserved the win, as captain Greg Johnson and defenseman Mark Eaton each made key clearing plays to run out the clock.
"If you're playing the penalty kill, you better be ready to battle and block shots and make second efforts," Vokoun said. "That's all it really is. You can give everybody structure and X's and O's, but if you don't work you're not going to be able to sustain pressure if they have one more player on the ice. Guys battled hard and we were able to kill it today."
"L.A.'s got so many guys that can beat you," said Hall, one of the key penalty killers praised by Trotz after the game. "Especially on a power when they have six-on-four and have their goalie pulled. Vokoun's there every game, all game long to make the saves. I think he was probably the biggest part of this win."
Next the Predators head off on a three-game road trip, which opens against Minnesota on Saturday. A match-up against Detroit follows on Monday before the trip concludes Wednesday in Columbus. All three games will be televised on FSN South; the Minnesota game will be broadcast on WNSR SportsRadio 560 AM and the remaining two will appear on WGFX 104.5 FM The Zone.
Notes: The Predators home record improves to 9-1-0 with Tuesday's win over the Kings, and it was the club's eighth one-goal win of the season... Tomas Vokoun has won four straight games, posting a .936 save percentage during that span. He is currently ranked second in the NHL in wins with 11... The Predators defeated the Kings in the Gaylord Entertainment Center for the first time in twelve games Tuesday. Nashville's last home win vs. L.A. came on April 3, 1999... Nashville's power play has connected on eight of 22 opportunities (36 percent) over the past three games... Adam Hall's goal was his second of the season, and both have come on the power play... Kimmo Timonen extended his point-scoring streak to four games with a goal and an assist against the Kings. All four games have been multi-point performances for Timonen, and he has accumulated three goals and five assists in that span... Paul Kariya's goal and assist Tuesday give him three consecutive multi-point games totalling one goal and five assists... With his assist Tuesday night, Martin Erat has scored a point in five of his last six games... Danny Markov has assisted on five game-winning goals this season, including Adam Hall's go-ahead goal Tuesday... Nashville is 4-0-1 when tied after two periods... The Predators' penalty killing, which was ranked sixth in the league prior to Tuesday's action, has been a perfect 11 for 11 in the last two games... Jamie Allison and Steve Sullivan were scratches for Nashville Tuesday. Sullivan is day-to-day after re-aggravating a groin strain... The attendance was 10,779.