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Late goal by Jackets downs Preds 4-3

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators strung together three consecutive power-play tallies to erase an early 2-0 deficit Saturday night, but gave up the final two goals of the game--including the game-winner with 1:23 left in regulation--in a 4-3 loss to Central Division rivals the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Scott Hartnell, Adam Hall and Yanic Perreault lit the lamp for Nashville and Paul Kariya registered two assists in what was only the Predators' second regulation loss to a divisional foe. Nashville's record drops to 31-14-6 for the season and 2-2-0 on the team's current five-game road trip, which will conclude on Wednesday in Dallas.

The game was full of special teams play. Only the first and last goals of the game came at even strength, as the Predators three scores with the man advantage were tempered by the Jackets' first period power-play goal and a short-hander late in the second that tied the game at 3-3.

"We'd come back from 2-0 and got three power play goals and we had another chance to even increase the lead," Predators associate coach Brent Peterson said. "Certainly [Columbus' short-handed goal] changed the game around. I don't know if it was tipped or whatever, but it was certainly the wrong time and got them momentum and got them back in the game tied. Then anything can happen in the third. So it was a key goal. It's tied and any little breakdown--which is what happened with 1:23 to go--can lose you the game. And that's what happened."

Strong pressure by Columbus late in the third resulted in the go-ahead goal by the Blue Jackets' leading scorer, David Vyborny. The winner, his second score of the game, came after teammates Rick Nash and Jan Hrdina won a battle along the end boards against Predators center Vernon Fiddler, and Nash attempted a wraparound shot that found its way to Vyborny open in the slot. His one-timer beat Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who was then pulled in the final minute as Nashville tried desperately--and ultimately in vain--to tie the game before the final buzzer.

Earlier, Vyborny's first goal of the night opened the scoring at 8:43 of the first period. It was set up by Hrdina with a centering feed from the right corner that caromed off Vyborny's skate, past Vokoun into the far side of the net. Moments later, penalties to Fiddler and Nashville defenseman Dan Hamhuis were whistled 1:31 apart, setting up a 29-second five-on-three opportunity for Columbus. While the Blue Jackets didn't capitalize on the two-man advantage, they did score 11 seconds after Fiddler's two minutes expired--during the remainder of Hamhuis' tripping penalty--to take a 2-0 lead at 13:09.

The Predators were whistled for only one more infraction--a tripping call against Martin Erat midway through the second--for a total of three penalties in the game. "A lot of games we've taken eight, nine and 10, and if you can keep it to three or four that's great discipline," said Peterson, who is responsible for directing Nashville's penalty killing units. "We can kill those off. That's a lot better than we've done in the past."

Instead, it was Columbus who wore a bit of a path to the box Saturday, and the Jackets' nine minor penalties set up a disparity in power-play time that tilted heavily in Nashville's favor--14:22 to 3:48. An interference call against Vyborny at 15:05 of the opening period gave the Predators their first manpower advantage of the night, and it took just 33 seconds for the visitors to cut the home team's lead in half. Kariya, skating on the right wing, led a three-on-two rush into Columbus' zone and sent a pass to Hartnell as he cruised down the middle of the ice. He took the puck, veered left, and fired a shot from the left face-off circle that targeted the far side. The puck hit goaltender Marc Denis but continued through to the net nonetheless, making it a 2-1 game at 15:38.

Nashville had seemingly knotted the score with four seconds remaining in the first period, but a deflection by Perreault in front was disallowed after it was determined by video review that the puck was directed into the net by his right glove and not by his stick during a bunting motion. "We thought it was hit in off the shaft of the stick--I think it was--but it looked on the replay that it was hit in by the glove," Peterson said. "A motion forward with the glove that made it look like it was hit by the glove. But Yanic told us that it went off his shaft and if it goes off the stick that's all right. You couldn't really tell on the replay."

The Predators did tie it up early in the third, as they buzzed in Columbus' zone while on their fourth power-play. First, Martin Erat hit Scott Walker for a backdoor play that was stopped by Denis, then a blast by Steve Sullivan from the top of the zone was turned aside. Seconds later, Erat set up Hall from behind the Blue Jackets' net for a shot in front that beat the Columbus goalie and evened the game at 5:04 of the second.

A double-minor for high-sticking to Duvie Westcott at 8:15 and a hooking call on Radoslav Suchy at 10:46 gave Nashville its own crack at a five-on-three, which it capitalized on at 11:20 with a goal by Perreault. Set up in the offensive zone, Kariya sent the puck from the right corner to Perreault, who had positioned himself in an unguarded patch of ice in front of the Columbus goal. He received the puck, held it for a split-second while he measured up Denis, then ripped it high to the right corner to put Nashville up 3-2.

The Predators finished the night three-for-nine on the power-play, but looked as if they could have been even more productive. "We had a lot of opportunities, a lot of chances, and moved the puck well," Peterson said of the special teams unit. "We did work hard to draw the penalties and we did a good job on [the power play]. We could have had even more. I know we got three and that's a good night, but we had some great opportunities on rebounds and one-time shots on cross passes. They could have easily gone in but they just didn't tonight, to give us that extra cushion that we needed."

Late in the second period, with Nashville on its eighth power play of the night, the Blue Jackets were rewarded for hard work along the boards in their own zone with a two-on-two short-handed chance that resulted in the tying goal. The play began as forward Trevor Letowski carried the puck through neutral ice and was joined by Westcott to his left. The two criss-crossed near the blue line and Westcott fired a shot from the top of the right circle while using Nashville defenseman Kimmo Timonen as a screen against his own goaltender. The shot hit Vokoun and deflected in at the 18:00 mark.

Then a relatively even final period unravelled for the Predators in the last two minutes of play. "In the third period the shots were pretty even and the chances were like five-four for us, so there wasn't really much going on," Peterson said. "Both teams were just playing smart and not giving up a lot.... We just had one little breakdown where the puck squirted to the slot and the guy got open for a split second and Vyborny made a good shot. So that's what can happen when you're playing with fire. It's tied and anything can happen. I think the way things were going, we needed to get to overtime and get the point and try to get a bonus point with overtime or the shootout. But we broke down with 1:23 left, and no points tonight."

Notes: The Predators outshot the Blue Jackets 27-24 Saturday night, and goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 20 of those 24 shots he faced. It was Vokoun's first regulation lost since Jan. 6 (nine appearances). Nashville is now 13-6-0 when outshooting its opponent... The loss was only the Predators' second in regulation to a Central Division opponent. Their record vs. the division is now 14-2-1. The one overtime loss also came at the hands of Columbus... The Predators are 5-2-3 in their last 10 games... Scott Hartnell, who opened the scoring for Nashville with his 17th goal of the season Saturday, now has four goals in his last five games. Saturdays' goal was his seventh on the power play and his 12th power-play point... Adam Hall's power-play goal gives him eight this season with the man advantage. He now has 11 total goals on the year, and has a point in each of his last two games... Against Columbus, Yanic Perreault scored his 19th goal of the season and ninth on the power play. He now has 23 points (12g-11a) in his last 24 games... Paul Kariya added two assists to his team-leading point total Saturday. He has 49 points (17g-32a) in 51 games this season... Martin Erat had an assist in his first game back after missing two with an injured hip flexor... Scott Walker, Dan Hamhuis and Kimmo Timonen were also credited with assists in Columbus... Defenseman Jamie Allison played for the first time since Jan. 18 in Carolina. He logged 8:02 of ice time Saturday and registered three of Nashville's 10 hits... Darcy Hordichuk registered six hits and one shot on goal in 7:27 of ice time... Steve Sullivan logged a season-high 22:38 of ice time... Scratches for Nashville were Marek Zidlicky (hand) and Jeremy Stevenson... Attendance at Nationwide Arena Saturday was 18,136.

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