Photo by John Russell
Nashville's Darcy Hordichuk levels Ziggy Palffy early in the second period of Sunday night's game.
The Nashville Predators used five consecutive goals, including two from Scott Walker, to storm out to a 5-1 lead Sunday night, then held on against a hard-charging Pittsburgh Penguins offense for a 5-4 win in front of a sold-out crowd at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The victory improves the Predators' record to 28-12-5 overall and draws them to within two points of the Detroit Red Wings and the top spot in the Western Conference. Nashville has now earned points in six of its last seven games, going 4-1-2 in that span.
With defenseman Kimmo Timonen in the penalty box serving a four-minute double-minor for high-sticking early in the first period, the Predators fell behind 1-0 on a power-play goal by Pittsburgh's Ryan Malone 4:26 into the contest. Walker tied the game just over a minute and a half later when he finished off a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play started by Vernon Fiddler and Steve Sullivan, and Paul Kariya scored on Nashville's first man advantage to give the Predators a lead they would never relinquish despite some tense moments in the third period.
"I thought the first shift we didn't respond very well," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. "They had like six shots on the first shift, and then we took minor penalties. They actually scored on the only shot they had during those four minutes. Then after that, I thought we regrouped quite well that period and responded really well--did the right things for two periods basically."
Kariya's goal, his 14th of the season, was a one-timer from high in the right circle that beat Penguins goaltender Sebastien Caron, who was screened on the play by Predators forward Scott Hartnell. Nashville extended the lead to 3-1 before the end of the first when Martin Erat wired a 40-foot wrist shot high past Caron. The play was set up by veteran center Yanic Perreault, who made a leaping play along the left boards to block an attempted Pittsburgh clear with his glove before feeding Erat.
Rookie of the year candidate Sidney Crosby had a terrific chance to tighten the game up for the Penguins with a breakaway 18:30 into the opening period, but he shot high and wide of the net. The Predators countered with a breakaway of their own less than a minute later, after Timonen spotted Sullivan streaking up-ice and sent him in alone on Caron with a pass from the Predators' goal line up to the far blue line. Sullivan moved from left to right and stickhandled from forehand to backhand a few times before releasing a shot on his forehand at the right post, but Caron made a spectacular move to get his left leg stretched out to the post to slam the door.
That was essentially Caron's last gasp, however, as Walker's second goal of the night 1:11 into the second period chased the starting goaltender in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury. The tally, Walker's third of the season, was an odd one, set up by a shot from the right wall by Greg Johnson.
"We were yelling for [Johnson] to shoot at the net, and he shot it," said Walker, who was playing in his fifth game after missing 33 with a sports hernia injury. "It hit a guy's stick and went up and just bounced up off my head and went in. It was funny, because as soon as it hit my head I was looking around and I saw it going in. Like I said to [Johnson], we've played for seven years together and it was probably one of the funniest goals I've ever scored for sure."
Moments later, Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun made a nice save on Penguins forward Ziggy Palffy to protect the 4-1 lead, and within seconds the Predators capitalized on a two-on-one rush the other way to increase the cushion to four goals. Hartnell fed Hall at the right hashmarks in the slot for a shot that served as a harsh welcome for Fleury. It would be the only goal the substitute netminder would allow in his 38-plus minutes of action, though, as he provided the backbone for the rallying Pens in the second and third periods.
"He's obviously a very talented kid," Vokoun said of Fleury, the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft held at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. "Not much chance on the goal--really quick with the guys. It's always tough to go in the game. I think he played really well. He gave them a chance to get points and that's all really you can ask your goalies."
Nashville's Darcy Hordichuk delivered a punishing open-ice bodycheck on Ziggy Palffy with six minutes gone in the middle stanza, laying out the Penguins' second-leading scorer at the Predators' blue line. Pittsburgh forward Maxime Talbot charged Hordichuk in response, earning an instigator and 10-minute misconduct penalty in addition to the five-minute major penalties he and Hordichuk received for fighting.
The Penguins began to show signs of life late in the second period, getting a goal from Michel Ouellet at 17:23 with Nashville's Marek Zidlicky in the box for holding. The power-play marker cut the lead to 5-2, and the margin was reduced to two less than a minute later when Josef Melichar's attempted pass down low was inadvertently tipped on net by a Predator and snuck through the legs of Vokoun.
"They started to come at us and made some plays," said Johnson, the Predators' captain. "We sat back a little too much."
The third period was relatively uneventful until a goal by Pittsburgh's Colby Armstrong at the 9:15 mark reduced the margin to 5-4 and heated up the proceedings. A boarding penalty to Jeremy Stevenson gave the Penguins their seventh power play of the night at 14:04, but key saves by Vokoun down the stretch kept Pittsburgh at bay until the final buzzer.
"They believed they were going to come back and I thought we were real sloppy in our clears and our passes--not real sharp," Trotz said. "Do I have the answer to that? Not really. I think we'll just chalk it up to 12 games in 20 nights. Guys are trying to get a little rest and mentally they're not sharp."
"It's two points," Walker said. "We knew they had the offensive firepower. They really were pressing in the second period when they were down 5-1. Our system is set up to play against a different kind of a system--more controlled. When they're just sending everybody we almost had to go into a system we're not used to, and you could really tell. But I thought all in all, we came through when we had to."
Now the Predators players will enjoy two days off before resuming practice on Wednesday. Their next match-up will be Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, when they'll host the New Jersey Devils for a 7 p.m. game. A divisional battle with the Columbus Blue Jackets follows Saturday night at the GEC. Tickets are still available for both games starting as low as $10, and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online or visiting the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster location.
Notes: The Predators are now 3-0-2 in their last five games and just completed a stretch of 12 games in 20 nights (Dec. 27-Jan. 15)... The team has played 10 of its last 14 games on the road, going 7-5-2 in those 14 games... Nashville has won two straight home games, improving its home record to 18-5-0... The 5-4 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday was the Predators' 17th one-goal win (17-7 in one-goal games) and it was their 14th victory of the season when allowing the first goal of the game (14-5-2)... Nashville's 28 wins through 45 games matches the total number of wins the team collected in each of three seasons: 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2001-02. The Predators managed 27 wins in 2002-03. The club has only won more than 28 games in a season twice (34 wins in 2000-01 and 38 wins in 2003-04)... Nashville is 17-0-3 when leading after two periods... Adam Hall has scored game-winning goals in two of his last five games. Five of his 10 goals this season have been game winners... Scott Walker's two goals give him a total of four points (2g, 2a) in the five games since he returned from sports hernia surgery. Nashville is 10-0-2 with him in the lineup this season... Paul Kariya notched an assist to extend his points streak to four games. He has four goals and three assists for seven points in that span. He is tied for the team lead in scoring with 42 points (14g, 28a)... Steve Sullivan assisted on Nashville's first goal and now has points in five straight games (4g-3a-7pts in that span). He is tied with Kariya for the team lead in scoring (22g-20a-41pts)... Yanic Perreault collected the only assist on Martin Erat's goal to extend his point streak to five games (4g-3a-7pts). He now has 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points on the season, bettering his 2003-04 season totals with Montreal, when he had 16 goals and 15 assists for 31 points in 69 games... Tomas Vokoun stopped 36 of the Penguins' 40 shots to post his 22nd win, tying him for second among NHL goalies in wins. Only Calgary's Mikka Kiprusoff has more, with 23... After registering seven more penalty minutes Sunday, Darcy Hordichuk ranks fourth in the league in the category... Shea Weber registered an NHL career-high 13:11 of ice time against Pittsburgh... The Predators had four players finish the game with face-off win percentages greater than 70 percent: Greg Johnson (75%), Jerred Smithson (75%), Vernon Fiddler (72%) and Yanic Perreault (71%)... Thirteen different Predators registered a point Sunday... Nashville's power play was one for four against the Penguins, while Pittsburgh's was two for seven... The Predators were outshot 40 to 32--including 17 to five in the third period--and are now 15-8-5 when registering fewer shots than their opponent... Nashville is 4-3-2 against the Eastern Conference and 3-1-0 against the Atlantic Division this season... Sunday night's crowd was the third sell-out for Nashville in the last four games. The Predators have now recorded five sell-outs and a total of nine crowds over 16,000 in 23 homes dates. The franchise had nine crowds over 16,000 in the entire 2003-04 season, including six sell-outs. Nashville has not had more than six sell-outs since the 2000-01 season. The Predators' average attendance this season is 14,244, compared to 12,272 at the same point in 2003-04... Jordin Tootoo and Jamie Allison were healthy scratches for Nashville Sunday.
Video: Watch the game highlights (1:08)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz' post-game press conference (7:23)
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