Photo courtesy of Minnesota Wild
L-R: Steve Sullivan, David Legwand, Kimmo Timonen and Dan Hamhuis skate to the Nashville bench after celebrating Sullivan's first-period short-handed goal.
In a game that was strikingly similar to the 8-6 opening night loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, the offensively powerful Nashville Predators came up short, 6-5, in a back-and-forth road game against the Minnesota Wild Saturday night. Like Thursday, special teams decided the contest. Though the Predators converted two of seven power play opportunities and scored one short-handed goal, the Wild capitalized on five of their eight extra-strength chances with only Brian Rolston's game-winner with 1:11 remaining coming during five-on-five play.
Twice Nashville held the lead in the game--once at 2-0 and again at 3-2. Later the Predators rallied from one goal down on two occasions to eventually even it at 5-5 with just under 10 minutes left in the match. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun played a much stronger game in net for Nashville than on Thursday, but faced numerous odd-man breakaways and was saddled with his second straight loss after stopping 28 of 34 Minnesota shots. Forward Steve Sullivan led the Predators with a goal and an assist, while J.P. Dumont added his first two assists of the season.
Nashville's Mikko Lehtonen opened the scoring just 1:41 into the game, connecting on a shot from the top of the left circle. For Lehtonen, who made his NHL debut Saturday, it was his first NHL goal on his first-ever shot. Nashville soon went a man down when Paul Kariya was whistled for shooting the puck over the glass from his own zone, but strong penalty killing would turn the tables and make it 2-0 at 3:59. The scoring play developed after Preds forward David Legwand worked hard to clear the zone and defenseman Kimmo Timonen intercepted the Wild's attempt to re-enter. Timonen flung the puck down the ice where Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez gathered it and fired it up the right-side boards. Sullivan tracked down the puck along the wall and peeled to the center hashmarks on his backhand. His shot beat Fernandez high to the right side to give Nashville the two-goal cushion.
The Predators wouldn't be as fortunate on their next two short-handed stints. Pavol Demitra finished off a two-on-one rush with Marian Gaborik at 6:54 to make it 2-1, then at 9:01 Gaborik walked out from the right of Nashville's net to beat Vokoun with a high, short-side shot. Nashville regained the lead just over a minute later when Scott Hartnell deposited a rebound for a power-play tally at 10:05, then Vokoun stepped up with huge stops on Branco Radivojevic and Demitra in the final five minutes of the first period.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota Wild
Predators forward J.P. Dumont (left) and Wild forward Branko Radivojevic watch an airborne puck.
Niklas Backstrom relieved Fernandez in the Minnesota nets at the start of Period 2, and the Wild nearly rallied to tie the match in the early moments with a number of lengthy up-ice passes that sent players in for quality scoring chances. The Wild were unable to convert on any of those, but did knot the contest at 3-3 after Vokoun was penalized for illegally playing the puck in the corner. Kim Johnsson's point shot deflected en route to the net in the waning seconds of the penalty and slipped by Vokoun at 14:55.
Mikko Koivu gave Minnesota its first lead of the game 1:53 into the third, again on the power play. Nashville then tied it at 4-4 a few moments later, when Marek Zidlicky took a drop pass from Jason Arnott and zipped it past Backstrom low and to the right. A slashing penalty by Martin Erat a little over one minute later gave the Wild its eighth manpower advantage of the night, and once again the home club capitalized. Petteri Nummelin found Todd White open in the slot for a shot that redirected through Vokoun at 8:01 to make it 5-4.
Vokoun kept the margin at one with a key pad save on defenseman Martin Skoula at the 9:00 mark, and Brian Rolston's subsequent cross-checking infraction gave Nashville a prime opportunity to tie the game. One minute into Nashville's sixth power play of the night, Minnesota's Pascal Dupuis cleared the puck from the Predators zone and sent his teammates on a 2-on-1 break the other way. Hustle by Sullivan and Erat broke up the play from behind, allowing Erat to pivot and carry the play back into the Wild zone. Erat skated into the left circle before passing the puck back to Sullivan just inside the center of the Minnesota blueline. Sullivan wound for a shot but instead passed back to Erat, whose quick shot from below the left circle was stopped by Backstrom. The rebound came right to Erat, though, allowing him to circle behind the net and wrap the puck into the empty side of the goal. The power-play tally made it 5-5 at 10:34.
Nashville received one more power play at 11:55 but came up empty on it. The visitors then received a pair of stellar saves from Vokoun against the whirling duo of Gaborik and Mark Parrish with 2:30 left. But another offensive zone turnover by the Predators a minute later resulted in yet another 2-on-1 for Minnesota. This time Pierre-Marc Bouchard fed Rolston on the left wing with room between Vokoun and the left post. Rolston deposited the deciding goal at 18:49.
The Predators pulled Vokoun in the final minute and created a quality scoring chance from the stick of Kariya, but the final buzzer sounded before Nashville could muster any more potent threats to force overtime.
The Predators play one more road game--a Thursday night rematch with the Blackhawks--before returning to the Gaylord Entertainment Center to face coach Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes next Saturday. Tickets are available for that 7:00 p.m. game and can be purchased online or by calling 615-770-PUCK. All fans in attendance will receive a O'Charley's Magnetic Schedule.
NOTES: The Predators have scored 11 goals over the course of their first two games of the season... Nashville's power play is 3-for-16 (19 percent) on the season... A franchise record was set Saturday for most power-play goals allowed in one game (5). The previous record of four occurred four times, most recently at home in a 9-4 win over Calgary on March 18, 2006... The Predators were outshot Saturday 34-30, but won the battle of the face-off circle 54 percent to 46 percent... Defenseman Kimmo Timonen led all skaters in ice-time, logging 26:02. Blueliner Dan Hamhuis was a close second at 25:22. Paul Kariya led all forwards with 23:24... Forwards Scottie Upshall and Vern Fiddler and defenseman Greg Zanon were scratched from the lineup for Nashville.