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Nashville grinds out 4-3 win in Calgary

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

A determined Nashville Predators squad stormed back from a 2-0 first period deficit Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames at Pengrowth Saddledome, taking a 4-3 lead on a backhand goal by Scottie Upshall with 6:47 remaining and holding on for a sixth consecutive victory. Nashville's Adam Hall and Vern Fiddler each tallied on the power play in the second period to tie the game at 2-2 and Jerred Smithson knotted the score again after a third Calgary goal. With the win, the Predators are a 3-0-0 on their current five-game road trip and move to 24-7-3 on the season.

After an opening period in which Calgary flexed its muscle--through physical play and two power-play markers--Nashville dug in and fought back by outhitting the Flames, winning races to pucks and putting in a superb effort in battles along the boards. The hard work resulted in numerous scoring chances, including each of the Predators' last two goals. Both were the product of gritty efforts by Nashville's forwards to work the puck loose behind the Calgary net and center it to a player waiting in front.

Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun made several spectacular saves to keep Nashville in the game, although his miscue behind his own net late in the second period directly resulted in Calgary's third goal and threatened to shift the momentum in the Flames' favor. Instead, Nashville outshot Calgary 13-7 in the final 20 minutes and went on to win their sixth game of the season when trailing after two periods.

The opening moments of the game unfolded in a less than ideal manner for the Predators. A boarding penalty to Darcy Hordichuk 1:00 into play put Calgary on its first power play of the night. Vokoun contributed two big saves--one on a deflected shot and the other on a one-timer from the point--as Nashville successfully killed that penalty. Then, over a 2:31 span, the teams combined for four roughing minors, two fighting majors and a boarding penalty. In the midst of these flaring tempers, Predators forward Steve Sullivan had to be helped off the ice after an accidental center-ice collision with Matthew Lombardi at 5:17. When the dust settled, Calgary had its second man-advantage of the night, and the Flames converted with a one-timer from the top of the left circle by Marcus Nilson at 5:42.

Despite a four-minute power play, a brief five-on-three advantage and a flurry of even-strength chances by Fiddler, Ryan Suter, Scott Hartnell and Dan Hamhuis around the 17:30 mark, the Predators allowed the Flames to extend their lead to 2-0 with 25 seconds remaining in the period. With Calgary on the power play, Nashville's Paul Kariya attempted a clearing lob that deflected off the glove of a leaping Calgary player to rookie defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who made a nice play at the blue line to hold the puck in and then rifled a slap shot that beat Vokoun to the glove side.

With Sullivan back with his teammates on the bench, the Predators started the second period with three straight power-play opportunities. Just one second remained on the third penalty when Adam Hall scored to cut the margin in half. He had positioned himself to deflect defenseman Dan Hamhuis' wrist shot from the left point; Hall directed the puck downward, forcing it to bounce once and fool Calgary goalie Philippe Sauve. The Flames then enjoyed back-to-back power-play chances of their own, and would have extended their lead at 12:05 if not for a remarkable save by Vokoun on sharpshooter Jarome Iginla. On the play, Vokoun made an initial stop on a shot from the left wing but the puck rebounded into the slot where Iginla picked it up, just inside the right face-off circle. He had a full net to shoot at, as initially, Vokoun was still down in a butterfly stance at the left side of the goal mouth. As Iginla approached on his forehand and targeted a shot just inside the right post, Vokoun moved laterally in a split second and executed a whirling stick save that sent the puck wide of the net.

That save proved crucial, as exactly two minutes later Fiddler capitalized on Nashville's seventh power play to tie the game at 2-2. The Predators had set up with possession of the puck in Calgary's zone. Defenseman Kimmo Timonen slid a pass from his position high in the zone to Kariya at his right. Kariya blasted a shot with Hordichuk screening in front, and the puck deflected off Hordichuk to the right side of the net where Fiddler got just enough of his stick on the disc to deposit the rebound.

The quick and scrappy Flames retook the lead at 17:38, when Vokoun went behind his net to play a dumped puck and inadvertently passed it to Calgary's Jason Wiemer in the right corner of Nashville's zone. Vokoun darted around the right side of his net to the front of the goal as Wiemer delivered the puck behind the net to Kristian Huselius. With Vokoun moving from right to left, Huselius fired an elevated shot at the goalie from behind the net that banked in off of Vokoun to make the score 3-2.

Dogged work by the line of Smithson, Hordichuk and Jordin Tootoo netted the equalizer for Nashville at 8:46 of the third period. With the puck along the boards in Nashville's zone, Hordichuk dug it out and sent a lead pass for Tootoo into the neutral zone. Tootoo's attempt to dump the puck into the offensive zone was blocked by Calgary's Robyn Regehr, so Tootoo collected the puck and went wide to the right of the defender. Regehr wedged Tootoo off into the boards, but the puck continued into the right corner where a solid check by Hordichuk allowed Tootoo to retrieve it and backhand it to Smithson out front at the hashmarks. Smithson's shot beat Sauve to the stick side.

Likewise, Upshall's game-deciding tally originated from solid work in the right corner--this time by Hall and captain Greg Johnson. As players from each side battled for possession, Johnson came away with the puck and skated behind the net toward the other corner. He then abruptly turned and, now on his forehand, skated to the right of the net. His pass toward to the slot--intended for a pinching Danny Markov--made its way all the way through to Upshall in the left face-off circle. Upshall wasted little time in releasing a backhander that put the Predators ahead 4-3 at 13:13 of the final period.

Less than a minute later, Nashville's Yanic Perreault nearly sealed the win with a shot from the slot that hit the left post behind Suave. Calgary mustered a final push in the last two minutes, but Vokoun squashed the best scoring chance from that flurry when he stood tall and squeezed his leg pads together to stop a shot by Nilson from low in the left circle. It was one of 23 saves Vokoun made on the night to secure a league-leading 19th win.

The Predators will continue their road trip with a stop in Vancouver Wednesday night to face the Canucks at 9:30 p.m. CT. The trip will conclude Friday night with an 8:30 p.m. match-up against the Edmonton Oilers.

Notes: Scottie Upshall's goal against Calgary was his fourth tally of the season and the first game-winner of his NHL career. He was named the game's 1st Star and logged his second-highest ice-time total of season (12:59) Tuesday. He now has seven points (3g, 4a) in his last seven games... Darcy Hordichuk notched two assists and was named the game's 2nd Star Tuesday... Adam Hall posted one goal--a power-play tally--and one assist against Calgary to give him four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in his last four games. Seven of his eight goals this season have come on the power play. He also logged a season-high 23:38 of ice time Tuesday... Vern Fiddler scored his fifth goal of the season against the Flames to extend his goal-scoring streak to three games. His five goals this season set a new career high... Jerred Smithson scored his third goal of the season. After posting two points (1g, 1a) in his first 14 games this season while wearing jersey No. 42, Smithson has notched four points (2g, 2a) in the six games since he changed his jersey number to 25... Paul Kariya added a power-play assist to take the scoring lead among Predators with 34 points (12g, 22a)...  Dan Hamhuis collected an assist Tuesday to give him 6 assists in his last five games... Marek Zidlicky, who registered an assist, has five points (2g, 3a) in his last five games... Jordin Tootoo registered an assist and now has five points (1g, 4a) in his last five games... Greg Johnson notched an assist, his third of the season... The Predators are 22-4-3 against Western Conference teams... Nashville has scored 30 goals in its last six games. During the first two months of the season (22 games), the Predators tallied a total of 62 goals; so far in December (12 games), the Predators have scored 48 times... Nashville has scored at least one power-play goal in 19 of its last 20 games. The club has nine power-play goals in its last four games. The Predators are 19-5-1 when they score a power-play goal, and 4-2-2 when they don't... The Predators are 12-3-1 when their opponent scores first, as Calgary did Tuesday night, and 14-4 in one-goal games... Nashville is now 6-1-0 in the first half of back-to-back games... Hamhuis and Kariya each registered a game-high five shots Tuesday... Nashville outhit Calgary 21-18. Smithson led all players with five hits... Hordichuk fought Chris Simon in the first period... Jamie Allison and Kris Beech were scratches for Nashville... Attendance at the Pengrowth Saddledome was 19,289--Calgary's 18th consecutive sell-out of the season.

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