Scott Hartnell's goal with 4:13 remaining in the third period capped a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory for the Nashville Predators over the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. An Opening Night sell-out crowd of 17,113 watched as newcomer Paul Kariya scored in his Nashville debut to spark the rally.
"Comebacks were very few and far between with the old rules, but now you've got to keep coming at people," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz, who appreciated the time and space that this season's stricter standards of rules enforcement offered his players.
Predators forward Scott Walker opened the scoring midway through the first period, after Steve Sullivan put on a puck-handling exhibition in the left corner and deked his way around three defenders. As Sullivan curled back toward the blue line, he spotted Walker streaking to the net behind a defense that was caught watching the puck carrier. Walker took Sullivan's pass and fired the puck under Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to give Nashville the 1-0 lead at 8:24.
"That's what the new rules are all about," Sullivan said. "In the old days I would have had a stick in between my legs and one arm around me and I would have been flat against the glass. Not being able to impede a player with the puck has been huge, and I'm able to be a little more free and make a few moves."
A short-handed goal by Patrick Marleau tied the game ”and silenced the crowd ”with 6 seconds remaining in the first, and Nils Ekman's conversion of a Milan Michalek backhand pass across the crease put San Jose ahead 2-1 going into the third.
Nashville recaptured the momentum just 1:10 into the final period on Kariya's tying goal, which began with the crafty forward zipping a behind-the-back pass at the opposing blue line to spring David Legwand down the right wing. Legwand rifled a shot that rebounded generously off of Nabokov into the deep slot, where Kariya jumped on the puck and fired it into a half-empty net.
"You saw what Paul Kariya could do as a difference maker," Trotz said. "When we needed a big goal he got the crowd right back in it.
"When you talk about Paul Kariya, he must be in the mix in important times," he added.
The Predators turned up the heat midway through the third, but couldn't break the tie until Hartnell's lengthy shot surprised a screened Nabokov with 4:13 remaining in regulation. San Jose mounted an aggressive last push with an extra attacker in the final minute, but failed to force one past Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
Vokoun stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced in the game, turning away all eight San Jose chances in the third. Nabokov allowed three goals on 25 Predators shots. Neither team was able to capitalize on its power play advantages ”six for San Jose and three for Nashville ”and Nashville dominated the face-off circle by winning 69 percent of the draws.
Nashville will remain at home for a match-up with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim this Saturday. The game will be televised on FSN South and broadcast on WNSR-560 AM. Tickets are still available for the game, and can be purchased at any Ticketmaster outlet or by calling (615) 770-PUCK.