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Nashville's hard charge comes up short

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Predators' forward Simon Gamache assisted on second period goals by Dan Hamhuis and Scottie Upshall to spark a spirited comeback in Friday night's preseason game in Atlanta, but a third-period power play goal by Thrasher center Bobby Holik proved to be too much for Nashville in a 3-2 loss. The Predators preseason record moves to 3-3 with one exhibition game remaining.

The teams faced each other for the second consecutive night in the latter half of a home-and-home series. Atlanta defeated the Predators by a 5-2 score Thursday night in Nashville. Though Friday night's result favored the Thrashers as well, the Predators packed a markedly different game for the trip.

Initially, both teams picked up where they left off in Nashville. Atlanta jumped out to an early lead on a goal by J.P. Vigier 1:02 into the game. The Thrashers extended the margin to 2-0 on a power play tally by Vyacheslav Kozlov midway through the period. Nashville's struggles with the man advantage continued, as the team went 0-for-5 in the first 20 minutes. One of the Predators' best chances came shorthanded. Adam Hall stripped Atlanta defenseman Niclas Havelid of the puck, took off on a breakaway and drew a penalty shot. Hall was unable to convert on the opportunity, however, sending his shot over the net.

The tone changed at the start of the second period. Nashville center Yanic Perreault hit Atlanta's goal post with a shot during a carryover power play, and tenacious work by Gamache set the Thrashers on their heels. Less than three minutes in, the Predators made Atlanta pay for two penalties committed five seconds apart. Gamache set up defenseman Hamhuis during the ensuing 5-on-3 for a drive from the point that beat goaltender Kari Lehtonen and cut the lead to 2-1. Shortly thereafter, Perreault rang another puck off the post and Gamache and Upshall generated a number of quality chances. The intensity continued to build and tempers flared at 6:41, when Nashville's Jeremy Stevenson and Atlanta's Francis Lessard dropped their gloves the moment the puck hit the ice for a face-off. The scene repeated itself two seconds later, this time with Predator Darcy Hordichuk trading punches with Eric Boulton.

Gamache and Upshall connected to tie the game at 9:38, after Gamache picked up the puck behind Atlanta's net and found Upshall open between the hash marks. Upshall followed that goal with two more quality chances that were turned away by Lehtonen. Trips to the penalty box marked the remainder of the second period and the beginning of the third for both teams, until Holik deflected Jaroslav Modry's point shot past Predators goaltender Chris Mason with 14 minutes left in regulation. Despite a late flurry that included Nashville's Randy Robitaille hitting yet another goal post with three seconds remaining, the 3-2 lead stood.

The teams combined for 28 penalties--13 to Nashville and 15 to Atlanta--while Nashville went 1-for-11 on power play opportunities compared to the Thrashers' 2-for-10 conversion rate. The Predators outshot the Thrashers by double digits for the second consecutive night--including a 22-to-5 second period onslaught Friday--but Lehtonen stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced. Mason saved 22 of 25 at the other end.

The game was followed by a shootout exhibition, in which Gamache and Martin Erat scored for Nashville to lead the Predators to a 2-1 win in the entertaining but inconsequential event. The shootout will be used during the 2005-06 regular season to decide games that remain tied after a five-minute, four-on-four overtime period.

Nashville concludes its preseason schedule with a Sunday afternoon rematch against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Predators defeated Columbus 3-2 in exhibition play on Sept. 23. Sunday's game, which begins at 4 p.m. CDT, will be broadcast in Nashville on WGFX-104.5 FM in Nashville.

After that final tune-up, the Predators return to the Gaylord Entertainment Center to open the regular season Oct. 5 against the San Jose Sharks. That game is sold out, though fans can still purchase a season ticket plan to secure one of a limited number of reserved seats. Single-game tickets remain for the Predators' opening weekend match-up against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Saturday, Oct. 8. Both games begin at 7 p.m.

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