When the second period began in the Nashville Predators' game against the St. Louis Blues Saturday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, the Predators found themselves trailing by one goal. The roles reversed by the start of the third, however, as Nashville forward Scott Hartnell scored two second-period goals--one on the power play and one with his team short-handed--in front of a sold-out crowd to turn the game around and key Nashville's 3-1 win over one of their Central Division rivals.
"We've been playing hard, playing great here in the last few games at home," Hartnell said. "It helps having the home crowd behind you. We played 60 minutes tonight and it was a good effort by everyone."
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen added a goal and an assist and Paul Kariya contributed two helpers in the Predators' third straight victory. The win moves the team's record to 11-2-3 on the season, 8-1-0 at home and extends the Blues losing streak to 11 games.
"This is a good sign that [Nashville's players] are starting to mature and realize, hey, you've got to do things a certain way, simplify your game, not take your opponent lightly," head coach Barry Trotz said. "You have to do what elite teams do."
The Predators fell behind 1-0 in the first period when Mike Sillinger put the Blues on the board at 13:30. Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun made a tough save on an initial shot by Dennis Wideman, but the rebound was picked up by Sillinger and deposited into the Nashville's net. The opening period was even in terms of shots, and the teams combined for 13 hits. Predators forward Darcy Hordichuk delivered a big one seven minutes into the game as part of a strong shift that he capped off by springing teammate Greg Johnson for a breakaway chance. Johnson attempted to slide the puck between the legs of Blues goalie Curtis Sanford, but Sanford closed the door in time to thwart the Predators' captain.
The Blues stepped up the physical play as the period drew to a close. Right wing Jeff Hoggan delivered a helmet-displacing open-ice hit on rookie defenseman Ryan Suter at center ice, and Sillinger followed that up with a hard check on Kariya that earned Sillinger a two-minute penalty for interference at 19:12. That penalty carried over into the second period, where Kariya got his revenge. Essentially quarterbacking the power play from the right boards, Kariya released a shot from the top of the right face-off circle that Hartnell deflected under Sanford to tie the game at 1-1 with less than a minute gone.
"I was just in the high slot and Paul made a great shot for my stick and I was able to tip it in," Hartnell said.
Nearly seven minutes later, overlapping penalties reduced the sides to four-on-four play. Predators defenseman Danny Markov held the puck in his own zone and took a long look up the ice as one penalty expired to allow Blues forward Dallas Drake to return to the ice. St. Louis never got a chance to set up their power play much less gain possession of the puck before Markov suddenly rifled a lengthy pass from the middle of his zone to Hartnell waiting at the left side of the opposing blue line. Carrying the puck behind the defense, Hartnell skated in alone and backhanded it high over Sanford into the net.
"Markov sort of looked them off a little bit and [Hartnell] sort of gave them a fake that he was going to come back toward the middle of the ice to the red line, and I think their [defense] bit in a little bit," Trotz said of the play. "A quick pivot [by Hartnell], and [Markov] hit him with a real good pass.... [Hartnell] was able to go in and--great move, that was top shelf."
Nashville nearly made it 3-1 about four minutes later, when Jeremy Stevenson jumped on a Blues turnover in his own zone. He carried the puck up ice and sent it to Johnson for a give-and-go play that resulted in Stevenson's shot from the right wing ringing off the post.
Vokoun, who had made two big saves earlier in the second, turned away a tough shot by Lee Stempniak in the final minute of that period and then made a bigger save on Jay McClement who stood unchecked in front of Nashville's net two minutes into the third.
"Tomas was huge," Trotz said. "When he had to make a save, it had to be a huge save. We had some coverage breakdowns that left guys wide open...but Tomas made the huge save. And that's why Tomas is an elite goalie. When you have a breakdown he comes up with the big save."
A power-play goal midway through the third extended Nashville's lead to 3-1. Again Kariya wristed a deflectable shot toward a teammate at the front of the net to set up the goal. This time it was Timonen completing the play as he stood at the left post and bunted Kariya's shot out of mid-air into the St. Louis net.
"It's more of a timing thing and just making sure the puck gets through," Kariya said of delivering a deflectable puck. "Obviously there are a lot of sticks out there and you've got to make sure you get the puck through."
After going scoreless in four straight games, the Predators' power play has pocketed six goals in two games, including two vs. St. Louis Saturday.
"It's nice to see that everyone's kind of on the same page now and battling hard to get in the right places to get chances," Hartnell said of his team's success with the man advantage.
"I think a lot of it is confidence," Kariya noted. "Last game we got one kind of on a broken play early on and I think that let us loosen up on the sticks a little bit and make some better plays. You know, a lot of times on the power play you'll be making good plays and nothing's going in. You just have to stick with it. We've done that and now we're getting some results."
Hartnell's second goal of the night turned out to be the game winner--his fourth of the young season. "He's played really big, especially when the game's on the line, and scored a lot of big goals for our club," Kariya said. "I definitely don't think it's a coincidence [that Hartnell has four game winners]."
Hartnell was more modest. "Any goal is a goal," he said. "It's nice to have that stat I guess, but as long as we keep on getting wins it doesn't matter who scores it."
Up next for the Predators is the final game of a four-date homestand, and that will take place Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Tickets are still available for the 7 p.m. start, and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online, or visiting any Ticketmaster outlet. The game will not be televised locally, but will be broadcast on 104.5 FM The Zone. The Predators and Second Harvest Food Bank, who collaborated on a food drive for Saturday night's game, will be accepting donations of non-perishable food items at the arena entrances again on Tuesday.
Notes: Danny Markov's laser pass to Scott Hartnell for a breakaway goal was Markov's 100th career assist. Mark Eaton's assist on that goal was his first point of the season... Hartnell now leads the NHL with four game-winning goals... Tomas Vokoun's win Saturday bumps his record up to 10-2-2 and ties him with Montreal goaltender Jose Theodore for second in the league in wins... Kariya's two assists vs. the Blues ties him with Steve Sullivan for the team lead in points at 16. Kariya leads the team in assists with 11... Nashville outshot the Blues 29 to 27, making Tuesday's game only the third time this season the Predators have outshot an opponent and the second game in a row in which they've done so... Kimmo Timonen extended his assist and point streaks to three games Saturday. He has two goals and four assists in that span... Scott Hartnell extended his point-scoring streak to three games. He has three goals and two assists in that span... Martin Erat just missed an empty net opportunity in the final minute of play to snap his goal-scoring streak at four games... Nashville is 7-0-1 when their opponent scores first, 3-0-2 when leading after two periods, and 3-0-0 when outshooting the competition... The Predators are undefeated so far against Central Division teams, posting a 4-0-1 record in those games... Center Scott Nichol returned to the Nashville lineup Saturday after missing two games with a bruised foot... Jamie Allison and Simon Gamache were scratches for the Predators.