The Nashville Predators saw Jaromir Jagr for the first time this season Thursday night, and they won't mind that it was also the last. Jagr, who entered the game tied for the league lead in points, posted a goal and two assists for the visiting New York Rangers as they handed the Predators a 5-1 defeat at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Yanic Perreault scored the only goal for Nashville, but the Predators were unable to sustain any significant momentum against a sharp Rangers club. Compounding matters were the losses of Predators Tomas Vokoun and David Legwand, who each sustained knee injuries that forced them to leave the game and not return. Both will undergo MRI exams Friday.
It was the season's only meeting between the interconference opponents. Nashville, whose first 23 games came against Western Conference foes, are now 2-1-0 in three consecutive games against the East. The loss drops Nashville's record to 18-5-3 overall and 13-3-0 at home.
The game started well for the Predators, who found themselves on a five-on-three power-play 1:41 into the game. With Ville Nieminen in the box for boarding, Paul Kariya rushed Rangers forward Steve Rucchin in New York's defensive zone and forced him into firing the puck cleanly over the glass--an automatic delay of game penalty. Nashville was unable to convert on the one-minute five-on-three advantage or the ensuing five-on-four, and went scoreless in five first-period power play opportunities.
"When you get a five-on-three, it has to be a goal," Kariya said. "Especially with a full minute there. It's disappointing. Especially after the way our power play played the last game."
Wednesday night the Predators went three-for-six on the power play against the Washington Capitals. The Rangers came up empty on their lone manpower advantage of the opening period, but put two goals on the board at even strength before the first intermission.
Jagr opened the scoring on a wrap-around goal against goaltender Tomas Vokoun. After taking a pass from Martin Straka on the right wall, Jagr beat Nashville defenseman Kimmo Timonen with a move and carried the puck behind the net. He emerged on the left side of the goal and backhanded the puck off of Vokoun and across the goal line. Petr Prucha extended the lead to 2-0 at 19:29 of the first after he was freed from the penalty box and lifted Dan Hamhuis' stick to intercept a pass and take off on a breakaway chance. He went from his forehand to his backhand and elevated the puck into the left side of the net.
"It's tough to give up a goal late in the period," Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis said. "You go into the dressing room feeling a little bit down. Obviously they got lifted up and got the momentum in their favor."
As the teams prepared for the face-off to open the second period, back-up goaltender Chris Mason skated out to the net for Nashville. Vokoun, not realizing he had injured his knee making a diving save on Darius Kasparaitis at 12:15 of the first, determined before the period that he was unable to continue.
"[Thomas] went on the ice for his warm-up and he didn't know his knee was hurt," Mason said. "I was basically in the room and they told me to get out there. It's tough, but I have to be ready. I wasn't very good in the second period and it kind of put the game out of reach."
The Rangers tallied three goals in the middle period. Rucchin tipped teammates' shots past Mason at 2:11 and 10:55, bookending a one-timer by Prucha. With about 14 minutes elapsed in the second, Legwand was involved in a collision along the left boards of his own zone and remained down on the ice in visible pain. With assistance, he eventually made his way off the ice and down the hallway to the locker room. He would not return.
Nashville nearly got on the board while shorthanded late in the period, as Jagr attempted a tap-pass in the Nashville zone that Sullivan jumped on and carried around Straka. Straka hooked Sullivan, prompting a delayed penalty, and the puck was deflected by a Ranger stick away from Sullivan to Jerred Smithson who was trailing the play. Smithson unleashed a shot from the slot that beat New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but the referees immediately waved off the goal because the whistle had blown to signal the penalty before the shot was taken.
The Predators broke through early in the third. Perreault, stationed in the slot and well-marked, received a pass from Sullivan. The puck was caught up in Perreault's skates momentarily before he was able to kick it to his stick and fire a shot in one swift motion. The puck beat Lundqvist high and cut the Rangers lead to 5-1, but that was as close as the Predators would come.
"We had trouble containing Jagr," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. "You can see why he is a top scorer in the league.
"One thing we did not do was quit," he added. "We never gave up."
Now the team will attempt to put the loss behind them as they embark on a two-game trip to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Putting the potential loss of two more injured players behind them may prove to be a more difficult challenge, however.
"Injuries are tough right now," Hamhuis said. "We already had guys out before the game started. To lose two more, our guys are going to have to step it up and play a bigger role."
The Predators recalled center Kris Beech and goaltender Brian Finley from the club's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee Thursday night. Both are expected to be at practice in Nashville on Friday.
Notes: Marek Zidlicky's assist on Yanic Perreault's goal in the third period Thursday night gives him four points in his last two games. The defenseman now has 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) in his last 12 games... Steve Sullivan's assist on Perreault's goal gives him three points in his last two games... Nashville's power-play scoring streak was snapped against the Rangers. Prior to Thursday's game, the Predators had tallied at least one power-play goal in 11 straight games to set a franchise record... The Predators power play went zero for eight in the game, while the penalty killers blanked the Rangers on four chances with the man advantage... Nashville outshot New York in each period, combining for a 31-25 advantage for the game. It was the eighth time this season Nashville has outshot an opponent, and the team falls to 6-2 when doing so... The Predators, who played in Washington on Wednesday, are now 2-1-2 in the second half of back-to-back games this season... The Rangers five goals matches the most given up by the Predators this season, and the four-goal margin of defeat ties the club record at home... Thursday night's attendance was 13,083.
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