The Nashville Predators capitalized on two early power-play opportunities Tuesday night and held off a late flurry by the Colorado Avalanche to win their third game in a row 3-2 in front of 15,120 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Nashville forward Scott Hartnell netted his fifth game-winner of the season midway through the third period and goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 24 of 26 shots on the night--including a key save on Ian Laperriere's breakaway chance 6:45 into the opening period--to raise the Predators' record to 21-7-3 overall and 16-3-0 on home ice.
"I was concerned before the game if we were going to be mentally sharp," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "I just sensed that we weren't mentally sharp. And it showed in the first seven minutes. And we sort of got things corrected and I thought the last 10 minutes of the first we played much better. I thought we played a real solid second period. We didn't give them too many chances and I thought we had some chances. And then in the third period I thought we played real solid probably about 15 minutes. Then they came at us real hard."
Seven minutes into the first, penalties to Colorado's Laperriere and Joe Sakic 39 seconds apart set up a five-on-three power play for Nashville. Just seven seconds into the two-man advantage, the Predators got on the board. Following a face-off win by Adam Hall, defenseman Kimmo Timonen fired a shot from the point that was stopped in front by Avalanche goaltender Vitaliy Kolesnik. Hall, by that point, had moved to the front of the goal and was parked on the doorstep. He chipped at the rebound, which bounced to the stick of Steve Sullivan near the left post, where he slammed home his team-leading 15th goal off Kolesnik's raised leg pad at 7:42.
"A rebound came out from the point," Sullivan said. "Adam Hall kind of took one whack at it and it just kind of was laying there and I just kind of banked it off [Kolesnik] and it went in."
With Laperriere's penalty time canceled by Nashville's goal, the Predators remained on a five-on-four advantage for 1:53. A tic-tac-toe passing play high in Colorado's zone saw the puck go from Dan Hamhuis at the right point down to Martin Erat above the right circle. On his forehand, the left-handed-shooting Erat zipped a pass across the width of the rink to defenseman Marek Zidlicky. Taking a stride into the left face-off circle, Zidlicky wound up for a slap shot that blew past Kolesnik to the short side for a 2-0 cushion at 9:02.
"I think it was important that we scored early on those power plays," Trotz said. "Some of our losses, if you go back in your memory bank, we drew a lot of penalties early and didn't score and then sort of lost some momentum. I thought the power play gave us some momentum."
A minute later, Colorado had a goal waved off by referee Ian Walsh, who determined that the whistle signaling an illegal hand pass had blown before the puck had entered the net.
With about five minutes remaining in the first period, back-to-back penalties just 15 seconds apart put Nashville down two men. Vokoun came up big twice on the five-on-three, though after his second big save--on a hard shot by Sakic from the right circle--a rebound went to Pierre Turgeon to Vokoun's left. Behind the goal line, Turgeon fired the puck at Vokoun's back and banked it into the net to cut the margin in half at 16:20.
The 2-1 score would stand through the entire second period and most of the third--a span that was largely controlled by the Predators.
"Our system doesn't really change if we're up or down," Sullivan said. "It's not as if we're gamblers and we change our system. We just continue to play strong and keep forechecking them and try to keep them out of our zone."
The forecheck paid off midway through the third, as Hartnell converted a breakaway chance to restore the two-goal lead. Hartnell stripped Colorado defenseman Brett Clark of the puck at the Avalanche blue line to create the opportunity.
"The guy had the puck and I think he just pushed it too far ahead of him," Hartnell said. "I just kind of read that and we both reached for it. I was able to poke it by him and I don't think the goalie--he was way back in his net to begin with and I just was able to get it past him on my backhand.
"It was a big goal," he added. "It gave us a two-goal lead. And we needed every goal tonight."
Three minutes later, with Colorado pressuring in Nashville's zone, Hartnell showed his defensive ability as well, diving to win a race to a loose puck and getting an important clear down the ice.
Avalanche forward Brad May was penalized for hooking at the 15:00 mark, but the Predators were unable to deal a finishing blow to the Avalanche. Instead, in the final two minutes of regulation, Colorado pulled their goaltender and used the extra attacker to create a flurry around Nashville's net. At 18:19, a wild scramble concluded with a goal by defenseman John-Michael Liles that tightened the margin to 3-2. A high-sticking call against Adam Hall at 19:17 opened the door a bit more for the Avalanche, but the Predators and Vokoun denied them a game-tying goal.
"There was a little bit of a cluster there when they scored their goal," Sullivan said. "There was a little bit of a pile-up at the face-off circle and a couple bowling pins fell. But we had some resolve in there and we stayed with it and were able to hold on. They had a power-play--six-on-four--and we were able to kill that off too. It was a great effort by Tomas Vokoun and everybody here defensively."
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