Photo by Frederick Breedon
Paul Kariya (seated) and Jason Arnott celebrate Kariya's late second-period goal that he tucked into the net while falling.
Scott Hartnell scored twice, including the game-winner with 2:29 remaining in regulation, as the Nashville Predators topped the San Jose Sharks 4-3 Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Marek Zidlicky assisted on three of Nashville's four goals, including ones by Paul Kariya and rookie Alexander Radulov, who pocketed his first NHL goal on the first shot of his career. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun contributed a number of stellar saves down the stretch to secure his fourth win of the season, stopping 24 of 27 Sharks shots for the game.
With the win, the Predators move to 5-3-1 on the season. The club has five victories in its last six games and now takes sole possession of the Central Division lead.
Hartnell's winner was a mix of simplicity and creativity. After being stopped on chance resulting from a 2-on-1 break, Hartnell retrieved his own rebound behind the San Jose net and eventually fired the puck at the back of goalie Vesa Toskala. Putting the puck on net paid off, as Hartnell's attempt achieved the desired result.
"You see it all the time in highlights, guys banking it in off the goalie," Hartnell said. "That was what I was trying to do. Didn't obviously think it would work when I did it, but saw it trickle over the line."
"[Hartnell] makes those little nifty plays," said forward Jason Arnott, who himself received praise from head coach Barry Trotz for his strong play against San Jose center Joe Thornton. "He's great around the net. He's got sweet hands around the net. He does that sometimes and goal scorers do that. They just try and get it on the net, and we got the lucky bounce."
San Jose opened the scoring on its first power play of the game, as Thornton fed Mark Bell on the doorstep for a redirect past Vokoun at 11:21 of the opening period. Nashville answered less than a minute later, tying it at 1-1 on Radulov's goal. The play developed as a pass from Marek Zidlicky broke forward Vern Fiddler out of the Predators' zone. Fiddler sent the puck up to Radulov on the right wing. The 20-year-old Russian winger carried the puck across the opposing blue line and into the right circle, where he unleashed a long but pinpoint shot to the blocker side that beat Sharks goalie Vesa Toskala at 12:17.
Overlapping penalties to Marcel Goc and Patrick Rissmiller late in the period gave Nashville a two-man advantage for 13 seconds. While the Predators didn't score during that brief stint, they did craft a snappy tic-tac-toe passing play during the remainder of Rissmiller's delay-of-game call to take a 2-1 lead. That goal, which came at 18:22, was the product of Kariya sending a pass across the slot to Zidlicky, who quickly whipped the puck down to Hartnell at the right post for a redirection past Toskala.
Photo by John Russell
An excited Alexander Radulov is congratulated by linemates after scoring his first NHL goal Thursday.
Kariya's goal made it 3-1 in Nashville's favor near the end of the second period, a 20-minute span that both Vokoun and Trotz referred to as the Predators' best of the season. But with 1:07 remaining before the second intermission, San Jose's Milan Michalek tallied to once again cut the lead to one. It took the wind out of Nashville's sails but didn't deter the home side in the third.
"It was a little disappointing," Hartnell said of Michalek's goal, "especially because it gives them a high going into the third period. But we said in the dressing room before we went out there, 'Don't focus on last period. Just keep on going. We have the lead. Play hard.' That's definitely what we did. They made it interesting late but we were able to hold on and get two points."
San Jose made it a nail-biter with a tying goal 6:43 into the third period. Patrick Marleau converted the Sharks' second power-play marker of the night to knot it at 3-3. The tie would last until Hartnell's late-game heroics put the Predators back on top for good.
"These guys beat us last year in the playoffs," Hartnell said. "It's still in the back of our minds. We came out hard tonight. We came out with a purpose. It took 60 minutes to get the win and two points in the standings."
Now the Predators pack up and head out on a lengthy four-game road trip that will wind through Western Canada before wrapping up in Minnesota a week from Saturday. After Friday's victory, a number of Predators emphasized the importance of winning this final home game before heading off on the difficult journey.
"We're on a roll here," Hartnell said. "We're feeling good. We've just got to take this show on the road."
NOTES: After Thursday's 4-3 result, the Predators are 5-0-1 in their last six games... Marek Zidlicky posted three assists, matching his point total over the first eight games of this season (1g-2a)... Paul Kariya registered a goal and an assist and now has points in three straight games (1g-4a=5pts)... Including Thursday's deciding goal, Scott Hartnell has scored the game-winning goal in each of the Predators' last three regular season home games against the Sharks (two last season and one Thursday). He now has three goals in the last two games... Martin Erat notched an assist and now has points in four straight games (2g-3a=5pts)... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun made 24 saves and is now 4-0-1 in his last five appearances... Shea Weber led all players with a +2 plus/minus rating... Nashville's penalty killers were 2-for-4 after killing 30 of 32 power plays against over the previous six games... The Predators power-play finished the night 1-for-4... Nashville managed four goals against Sharks goaltender Vesa Toskala, who had his streak of 12 straight regular season wins broken. Toskala entered the game with a 1.99 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage... The Predators outshot San Jose 29 to 27 and won the battle of the face-off circle 53 percent to 47 percent. Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen led Nashville with five shots each, and Vern Fiddler was the best among players who took more than three face-offs, winning 70 percent of his draws... Steve Sullivan missed Thursday's game with back spasms. Jason Arnott wore the alternate captain's "A" in Sullivan's absence.