Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya scored shootout goals Saturday night and goaltender Tomas Vokoun shut the door on two Philadelphia Flyers snipers to give the Nashville Predators a dramatic 4-3 victory over their first Eastern Conference opponent of the season. Kariya and linemate Martin Erat
hooked up twice to bring Nashville back from one-goal deficits in front of 16,116 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
The Predators, now 4-1 in shootouts this season, have won three straight games to improve to 17-4-3 overall and 13-2-0 at home.
After erasing a 1-0 Flyers lead in the first period and a 2-1 margin in the second, Nashville tallied on the power play 2:21 before the second intermission to establish its first lead of the game at 3-2. But Philadelphia mustered a goal late in the third period to knot the score at 3 apiece and force overtime. When neither team broke the deadlock in the five-minute extra session, the game went to a shootout.
Right wing Mike Knuble shot first for the Flyers, deking to his backhand but failing to elevate the puck over Vokoun's outstretched right leg pad. Sullivan then skated in on Philadelphia rookie goaltender Antero Niittymaki, faked a shot to freeze the netminder and then put the puck between his legs. The Flyers followed with Simon Gagne, currently the league's leading goal scorer, but he, like Knuble, went to his backhand and, again like Knuble, failed to get the puck by Vokoun's outstretched leg pad--this time his left. At that point, a goal by Nashville would win the game, and the home crowd erupted as Kariya was announced as the Predators' next shooter. A left-handed shot, he approached Niittymaki from the right and moved left, unleashing a laser that went high to the net's right corner.
"I was watching what [Niittymaki] did on [Sullivan's] goal and it looked like he was staying back in the net," Kariya said, "so I looked five-hole and he was going to take it away and I went up top."
"On Kariya's goal, I was just late," Niittymaki said.
"He always does the same thing," the goalie added. "He cuts across a bit, then you've just got to hope you're quick enough to save it."
Not only did Kariya end the game for Nashville, he started it as well. Only 20 seconds after Knuble opened the scoring at 9:24 of the first--just as a five-on-three Flyers power play became five-on-four--Kariya converted a pass from Erat to put the Predators on the board.
"I thought it was really significant that they score that first goal, and [we] answer right away," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "Any momentum that they start to get from that, it gets wiped out. That first shift after a goal is scored, coaches always talk about that, that's a big shift because you want to build the momentum, get that ball rolling. They scored and then the next shift we come and score--that ball doesn't even get off the ground."
After being whistled for three straight penalties, Nashville was the beneficiary of three against the Flyers to close out the first. The Predators were unable to capitalize on the chances, though Erat nearly gave his team the lead at the 18-minute mark with a tricky shot that bounced before being snared in Niittymaki's catching glove. Vokoun answered with an equally important save 3:33 into the second period when Michal Handzus, the trailing, third player of a Philadelphia three-on-two break, took a pass in the slot and ripped a shot. The Flyers had ramped up the intensity in the middle stanza, and eventually broke through with an even-strength goal from rookie center Mike Richards at 8:04.
Erat's tying goal at 13:30 was a beauty, developing in the neutral zone when Yanic Perreault feathered a soft lead pass ahead of Kariya sprinting through the neutral zone. Kariya was hooked as he tried to collect the puck, prompting a delayed penalty that allowed Nashville to continue its offensive opportunity. Kariya still ended up with the puck on the right wing in the Flyers' zone and centered to Erat who deked the goalie then scored easily.
"In the second period I knew they were going to come with a real hard game," Trotz said. "They had made some subtle changes in their game that created a lot of forecheck and we had to withstand that a little bit. I thought we did a pretty good job and were able to counter off a rush with Kariya over to Erat on the goal. I thought we reestablished ourselves after that."
Roughly four minutes later, with Flyers bruiser Donald Brashear in the penalty box for a charging infraction that dumped Mark Eaton after Brashear had already downed Zanon and Kariya during his shift, the Predators power play connected for the 10th consecutive game. Set up in a compacted umbrella formation, Nashville worked the puck from Erat in the left face-off circle to defenseman Ryan Suter at the point of the umbrella to Perreault on the right side. Perreault quickly turned with the puck and put it past Niittymaki for a 3-2 lead.
The one-goal margin wasn't enough, though, as desperation began to set in for Philadelphia late in the third and defenseman Derian Hatcher put a blast from the high slot past Vokoun at 17:51 of the period. "When they score that late goal, in years past we would have been maybe a little flustered, a little nervous," Trotz said. "We're not flustered and nervous any more. We just say, 'Hey, we'll get it back.' "
Hatcher's goal ultimately led to the shootout--the third for Kariya, who has scored on all three chances.
"He really studies the goaltenders and he's got such a smooth quick release," said Trotz, explaining Kariya's success in shootouts. "When you watch him, and he lets the puck go, you don't even know he's shooting it. You still think he's stickhandling it. It's a real deceptive type of move that he has. He's good. He's an artist when it comes to that forum. He's a cerebral type of player and he takes advantage of that. He saw some of the things the goalies were doing. We sort of hit [Niittymaki] in two different areas. We hit the five-hole and then he was trying to cover that up and we go upstairs. I thought Sully's goal set up Kariya's goal real good."
Vokoun's blanking of Knuble and Gagne improved his shootout record to 3-1. He has now stopped seven of nine shots faced in the one-on-one showdowns. "We have one of the top goalies in the league and some of the best skill guys in the league," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "It's a good combination when it comes to shootouts."
Saturday's Predators-Flyers meeting was the first of five straight games against Eastern Conference teams for Nashville. The club hits the road for its next contest, a Wednesday night match-up against the Washington Capitals. The following evening the Predators are back at home to face-off against the visiting New York Rangers. Tickets remain for that Thursday, Dec. 8 game and can be ordered by calling (615) 770-PUCK, purchasing online or stopping by the GEC box office or any Ticketmaster location.
Notes: Martin Erat's goal and two assists against Philadelphia gave him his first three-point game of the season, tying his personal best for points in a game... With a goal and an assist on Saturday, Paul Kariya now has 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) in 11 career games vs. Philly... With a record of 17-4-3, the Predators are one point behind the Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings and are ranked third overall in the NHL... Saturday night's win over the Philadelphia Flyers was the 200th victory in Predators franchise history. It was also the team's first-ever home win against the Flyers... By netting a goal on the power play Saturday, the Predators have now scored at least one goal on the man advantage in each of their last 10 games--a franchise-record streak. They have scored on 16 of 72 opportunities in that span (22.2%)... Nashville's penalty killers, ranked fouth entering Saturday's games, have killed 53 of 59 power play chances in the last nine games (89.8%)... Defenseman Kevin Klein made his NHL debut Saturday night after being called up from Nashville's minor-league affiliate earlier in the day. He was paired with Greg Zanon, who made his NHL debut on Thursday. "We had three defensemen that had a combined 24 NHL games, and [Ryan] Suter had 23 of them," head coach Barry Trotz said... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who played in his 300th NHL game Saturday, is now 15-4-2 on the season, placing him atop the NHL leaders in wins for 2005-06... Nashville was outshot for the 17th time in 24 games, but is 11-3-3 when outshot... Nashville has allowed the first goal in 12 of 24 games, but is 9-2-1 when doing so. The club has only allowed 14 total first period goals... The Predators' 13 homes wins are the most in the NHL this season... The club is 8-0-2 when leading after two periods and 11-0-3 in one-goal decisions... The Predators kept the Flyers' Simon Gagne off the scoresheet Saturday night, marking only the seventh time this season that Gagne has been held pointless.
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