Photo by Frederick Breedon
Mike Sillinger (left) celebrates his third-period goal that put the Predators up 3-1.
The Nashville Predators scored three unanswered goals to overcome a 1-0 deficit and top the Vancouver Canucks by a 3-1 margin Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. After Yanic Perreault tied the game on the power play, captain Greg Johnson scored a short-handed tally 45 seconds into the third to put the Predators ahead. Mike Sillinger's insurance goal and Tomas Vokoun's stellar play in net secured the win, which improved the Predators record to 35-19-6.
The victory was especially significant because it came against a team that entered the game trailing third-place Nashville by only one point in the Western Conference standings. Also of importance was the fact that the Predators, who were shut out by the Blackhawks Wednesday night in Chicago, were looking for momentum to carry into a four-game West Coast swing that begins Sunday in Edmonton.
"I thought it was a good bounce-back effort," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "[Wednesday] night we didn't play with urgency. [Thursday] we did. We got down a goal against a very good team. We battled back."
"I think we showed a lot of character tonight," said Sillinger. "Tomas, obviously the backbone of our hockey club, was fantastic tonight. He's the reason why we won the game."
Vokoun stopped 41 of 42 Vancouver shots, with his first big save coming midway through the opening period during a five-on-three Canucks power play. Anson Carter's close-range bid from the left of the Nashville net was met by the toe of Vokoun's outstretched right leg. As the game progressed, Carter would have a number of other grade-A chances thwarted by the sharp Predators netminder, whose only blemish came during another five-on-three disadvantage early in the second period.
"We found ourselves in penalty trouble," said Sillinger, who committed the first of Nashville's 11 minor penalties. "We gave up a couple five-on-threes. They scored a goal but I thought our penalty killers did a great job. We hung in the game and killed most of them off and from that we just took the game over in the third period."
Vancouver capitalized on the penalties by netting the opening goal 2:15 into the middle frame. Only eight seconds after a Shea Weber infraction put the Predators down two men, Markus Naslund--the Canucks' leading scorer--lit the lamp with a sniper's shot from low in the right circle. After posting 13 shots in the first 20 minutes, Vancouver peppered Vokoun with 17 in the second. The goalkeeper, undoubtedly still taxed from a bronze-medal performance at last week's Olympic ice hockey tournament, showed no such signs as he repelled one chance after the next.
"Talk about a gold-medal performance, that was a gold-medal performance," Trotz said of Vokoun's play. "He made the big saves when we needed it. At the start of the second period I thought he was great because if they get two goals there we're probably not sitting here saying, 'Hey, we got the win.' He battled through. The penalty killers did a great job of throwing their bodies in front of pucks and trying to deflect the attack. It was nerve-wracking behind the bench, but at the same time we got it done."
Photo by John Russell
Tomas Vokoun lunges to push a loose puck beyond the reach of Canucks forward Brendan Morrison. Vokoun made 41 saves to earn his 29th win of the season.
"We had some five-on-threes to kill and they've got a good power play, so we were very fortunate," said captain Greg Johnson, a member of Nashville's penalty killing unit that finished the game having erased 10 of Vancouver's 11 power plays. "[Vokoun] made some good stops and we cleared the puck when we needed to."
The Predators pocketed the equalizer late in the second period, after a hooking penalty to Kevin Bieksa put the home team on their fourth power-play of the night at 16:42. Paul Kariya passed the puck from the top of the right circle down low to Perreault, who squared himself to the net at the base of the circle and beat goaltender Alexander Auld high to the short side at 17:01. A save by Vokoun on Naslund with six seconds left in the period--in a near repeat of Naslund's earlier goal--sent the teams to their respective locker rooms knotted at 1-1.
Naslund's late chance had come on his club's eighth power play, the bulk of which carried over into the third. It was the short-handed Predators who capitalized, however, as good pressure by the penalty killers resulted in Johnson skating down the right wing on a two-on-one rush with Adam Hall. Johnson kept the puck and uncorked a shot that beat Auld high to the far side to put Nashville ahead 2-1 just 45 seconds into the final period.
"That was a real big momentum change," Trotz said of the goal. "The guys did a good job. They pressured up top. [Vancouver] tried to throw it across. I think it hit [Vancouver forward Todd] Bertuzzi and bounced in the neutral zone, and [Johnson] went in and made a good shot on Auld."
After a pair of big saves by Vokoun, another solid penalty kill by the Predators and a bone-jarring hit by Nashville defenseman Shea Weber along the end boards behind his own net, Sillinger extended the lead to 3-1 at the 6:09 mark. "[Scottie] Upshall made a great play," Sillinger said, recalling the opportunity that was created by Upshall's dogged pursuit of the puck. "He hustled on the defenseman, and that was the key all night, to get on their [defensemen]. He made a great play and made a great pass to [Dan] Hamhuis. He--boom--one-timed it. The goalie made a great save and I just kind of batted it out of the air. I think it hit their guy and went in. But it was a great play by Upshall."
The Canucks squandered four minutes of the period with minor penalties and were limited in their chances otherwise. Auld was pulled in favor of an extra attacker with two minutes left in regulation, and a slashing call against Upshall at 18:58 gave Vancouver a six-on-four advantage. Still, the visitors were unable to beat Vokoun again, as he stopped Bertuzzi twice in the final half-minute. Frustrated, Bertuzzi initiated a brief scrum in the last few seconds and the Predators responded in kind as they had all game. "They're a good, big, solid team that plays physical and we had to try and match that," Johnson said. "We did OK."
For the seventh time in their last eight games, the Predators were outshot by their opponent. But the final 42-20 margin was a bit misleading. "We ended up with 20-odd shots, but we put a lot of pucks toward their net--they never got through," Trotz said. "Their guys did a good job of blocking shots."
"If you saw our power play there, we were moving the puck around well, but they're a veteran team," Sillinger said. "They have guys like [Trevor] Linden that kill penalties and Morrison and Naslund. These are good, experienced guys and they know how to get in shooting lanes. They did a good job of that [Thursday]."
Though the Predators seemed tentative and lacking in confidence early in the game on the heels of Wednesday's shutout, the team gathered steam as the contest progressed. Ultimately the players responded with an important gut-check win over an opponent they had not beaten in six tries.
"It took us a while to get our first goal," said Vokoun, who earned his 29th win of the season. "I think that's always a big thing for us. We were kind of panicking with the puck but they're a hard forecheck team. It was tough. There's still a lot of [room for] improvement in our game but we've got to be happy with the effort and we won."
Notes: The Predators registered their 35th win of the season Thursday--the second-most wins in franchise history--to move within three of the club record of 38 set in 2003-04... Nashville set a new record for home wins (23) Thursday with a 23-6-1 record on Gaylord Entertainment Center ice this season... Forward Yanic Perreault's power-play goal--his 10th of the season--was the club's 70th of the season, which is two short of the franchise record. Perreault now has 13 points (3g-10a) in his last 10 games... Nashville is now 19-10-2 when giving up the first goal... The Predators' penalty killing units have successfully defused 54 of the last 57 power-play chances against, including a 10-for-11 performance Thursday against Vancouver. The Canucks' only goal was scored while the team skated with a two-man advantage... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 41 of 42 shots to earn his second straight win and improve his record to 29-14-5. He was named the game's 1st Star... Center Greg Johnson's short-handed goal was his third of the season and Nashville's ninth. He has tallied seven shorties in the last two seasons. He also finished the night with a record of 14-5 in the face-off circle. He was named the game's 2nd Star... Mike Sillinger's goal Thursday was his second as a Predator. He now has two points (1g-1a) in his last three games... Left wing Paul Kariya assisted on Perreault's power-play goal to reach the 40-assist mark for the sixth time in his career. He continues to lead the team in scoring with 59 points and has five points (1g-4a) in his last four games... Scottie Upshall's assist on Sillinger's goal gives him two points (1g-1a) in his last three games. He also registered a +1 rating Thursday and leads the team at +8 for the season. He was named the game's 3rd Star... Defenseman Dan Hamhuis logged a team-high 24:03 of ice time, including 9:44 short-handed. His assist on Sillinger's goal brings his point total on the season to 26, which ties his career high. He also finished Thursday's game with a +2 rating... In his first action after sitting as a healthy scratch Wednesday, forward Adam Hall returned to assist on Perreault's goal. It was his 12th assist of the season and sixth power-play helper... Mark Eaton, Scott Nichol and Vernon Fiddler were scratches for Nashville. Eaton, who injured his knee during a collision Wednesday night in Chicago, is expected to miss two to four weeks, head coach Barry Trotz announced after Thursday's game... Friday's practice scheduled for the Centennial Sportsplex has been rescheduled as a workout at the Gaylord Entertainment Center... Thursday night's attendance was 13,228.
Video: Watch the game highlights (:41)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (8:14)
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