Photo by John Russell
Sabres goaltender Martin Biron makes one of his 29 stops of the game, turning aside a shot by forward Alexander Radulov.
The Buffalo Sabres scored three times in the second period and twice more in the third to blow open a 2-1 lead and defeat the Nashville Predators 7-2 Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Jason Pominville, Ales Kotalik and Maxim Afinogenov each scored twice for the Sabres while Martin Erat and Jason Arnott tallied for the Predators.
Nashville's record falls to 23-9-3 on the season. The loss is their first to an Eastern Conference team in six games this season. Thursday's highly anticipated match-up pitted the NHL's No. 2 (Buffalo) and No. 3 (Nashville) teams against one another.
"I'm very disappointed because I think there's a lot of interest in the hockey world in Nashville-Buffalo," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said after the game. "Similar markets, style of play, all those things. Tonight we got taught how to play by the Buffalo Sabres."
"We didn't play our best, that's for sure," Nashville goaltender Chris Mason said. "If you give a team like that time to do what they want, they're going to kill you. We got killed."
Mason made some amazing stops in the second period--notably a swift move from post to post to get his glove on a postmarked shot by Afinogenov at the 1:15 mark--but they were overshadowed by Buffalo's offense. The Sabres continually took advantage of Nashville turnovers and used their considerable speed to create scoring chances. Nashville had cut into an early deficit to make it 2-1 after the first period, but Buffalo made it a 5-1 game by the second intermission.
"We didn't do the right things against this team," Trotz said. "They're extremely good at counterattacks and we turned the puck over at their blue line about five times in a row. We swung by people, we didn't pick up people, and they converted. They made a game that was becoming close into a one-sided victory."
Mason was replaced by goaltender Michael Leighton for the third period. In his first action of the season, Leighton allowed two power-play goals in the final minutes of play.
"I just said enough is enough," Trotz said, explaining his decision to pull Mason after two periods. "'Mase' was doing his job but we didn't have enough guys doing their job. I just said that's an opportunity to put Mike in there. 'Mase' has done a fantastic job. We've been really good in the last five games. I think we only gave up six goals in the [previous] five games. Tonight they got seven."
At the start of the game, Kotalik tipped Brian Campbell's point shot past Mason just 33 seconds in to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead. Just over five minutes later, Pominville increased the margin to 2-0. That play started with Daniel Briere chipping the puck deeper from his position along the left half wall. Jaroslav Spacek received the puck behind the net and sent it to Pominville to the left of Nashville's net. His shot managed to squeeze between Mason and the left post at 5:43.
Immediately after the Sabres' second goal, Trotz called his team's 30-second time out.
"At that point I didn't want to give them any momentum," Trotz said during his post-game press conference. "I still felt that if we could hold them to two, we'd be fine. But I just said to the guys, 'There wasn't anything that they just did to score two goals that we didn't talk about or didn't review before the game. We know what we have to do to be effective against them.' It was that time. If we did the right things we could get back in the game."
Erat then scored a short-handed goal at 8:57 to cut the Buffalo lead in half. Erat finished off a two-on-one break after being set up by David Legwand, who carried the puck up the ice on the right side. Buffalo's defenseman favored Legwand, allowing the Predators center to slip the puck left to Erat. Erat had a lot of room to shoot at and put the puck high into the net for his seventh goal of the season.
Photo by John Russell
Predators winger Martin Erat's short-handed goal in the first period cut Buffalo's lead to 2-1 and gave the Predators life heading into the second period.
Nashville then rallied with a number of quality chances in the final half of the first period--including a wicked one-timer by Scott Hartnell from the right circle--but could not even the score before the first intermission. Nashville outshot Buffalo for the period 11-10.
"If we wouldn't have turned it around there it could have been worse," Nashville right wing Steve Sullivan said, "but I thought we did a good job answering the bell there and making it 2-1 and making a hockey game out of it for the next little while. Then, again, we deviated away from our game plan and they made us pay."
Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman made it 3-1 at 5:25 of the second period when he slammed home the rebound of his own wide shot, which came straight back off the end boards. Predators Scott Hartnell and J.P. Dumont nearly connected on a 2-on-1 at 9:55, then Hartnell had a good chance with a tip on net at 11:45 during Nashville's third power-play. Erat jumped on Hartnell's rebound but goaltender Martin Biron got his left pad flush to the ice in time to thwart Erat's low attempt.
Afinogenov scored the first of his two goals at 15:18, making a nice move around defenseman Dan Hamhuis and cutting in front of the Predators net. He pulled the puck to his forehand and released an off-balance shot that slid just inside the left post. His second came at 17:45, after the Sabres countered on a giveaway by Paul Kariya. Kariya lost sight of the puck in his skates, allowing Buffalo to steal and create a 3-on-2 break. Afinogenov was the trailer on the play and ripped a shot past Mason from the right side of the slot.
Arnott made it 5-2 when he deposited a power-play goal 3:02 into the third period. Scott Nichol, Arnott and Legwand all came close to scoring in the following minutes, but Biron was sharp. After being outshot 16-7 in the middle frame, Nashville peppered Biron with numerous chances in the third.
With 4:39 remaining in regulation, Spacek twisted Nichol as play was being whistled to stop the action. Nichol fell hard into the right goal post of the Sabres net, knocking it off its moorings. Nichol stood up, skated toward Spacek and delivered a punch from beyond Spacek's peripheral vision, sending the Buffalo blueliner to the ice. Players, including Biron, piled onto Nichol and the 10 skaters on the ice paired off. Leighton skated to center ice but remained on his half of the rink at the order of the referee.
Nichol was penalized 27 minutes for the act, giving Buffalo a power play for the remainder of regulation. His penalties included a fighting major, a minor for instigation, a 10-minute misconduct and a game misconduct. Spacek, who was assisted on the ice by trainers for a couple of minutes and left the game, received two minutes for interference.
"Plain in simple, it was a very dangerous play," Trotz said of Spacek's involvement. "Scottie was driving the net and he got corkscrewed. You can break a back, a neck, a leg. It was just a dangerous play. The referee made the right call on [Nichol's] response.
"His response probably wasn't correct and he was punished by the referee for it."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said after the game that X-rays taken of Spacek's jaw were negative.
Since an instigator was called on Nichol within the final five minutes of regulation time, league rules state that he will be suspended at least one game. The incident will be reviewed by the league, at which point the one-game suspension may be rescinded or a longer suspension may be imposed. If at least a one-game suspension is imposed, Trotz will be fined $10,000 according to the NHL rule book.
As a result of the major penalty, Nashville was under seige again for the final 4:39. Buffalo scored twice on the manpower advantage. Kotalik scored his second of the night at 17:03 and Pominville pocketed his second at 17:28.
"We put some pressure on in the third period but the game was sort of out of reach at that point," Mason said. "Then we have to kill five minutes at the end and the way that they were moving the puck around, it's just a matter of time. They were teeing it up from all over the place."
Next up for Nashville is a home game this Saturday evening against the Los Angeles Kings. Game time is 7:00 p.m. CT and tickets are still available. To order, buy online, call 615-770-PUCK or visit any Ticketmaster outlet. The Predators will be looking to rebound from their effort against Buffalo.
"We've got one more game before Christmas and I think how we respond on Saturday night will say a lot about our group," Trotz said. "Knowing our group, they will respond in a very positive way."
NOTES: Thursday's loss was Nashville's first regulation home loss since opening night, Oct. 5. The Predators had gone 9-0-3 in their previous 12 at home... The game marked the first time Nashville allowed more than four goals since Nov. 16, a 7-6 shootout loss to Minnesota... Martin Erat scored the first short-handed goal of his career. The tally was his first after 11 games without a goal... Nashville scored a power-play goal for the sixth straight game... Defenseman Kimmo Timonen assisted on Erat's goal and now has points in three straight games (1g-3a=4pts)... Winger Steve Sullivan registered an assist and has six points (3g-3a) in the last five games... Jason Arnott, playing in his fourth game since returning from knee surgery, scored his first goal since Nov. 18 in Columbus... Ryan Suter recorded an assist on Arnott's goal--his first point since Nov. 25... The loss ended Nashville's five-game win streak... The Predators were uncharacteristically outscored 3-0 in the second period. Nashville had outscored opponents 48-18 in the second period entering Thursday's game... Jordin Tootoo was the lone scratch from Nashville's lineup... Attendance at the GEC was 16,616.