Dan Hamhuis and David Legwand scored a pair of goals less than one minute apart early in the second period to quickly squash a Columbus Blue Jackets rally and lead the Nashville Predators to an eventual 4-2 victory in Nationwide Arena Wednesday night. Predators forward Scott Hartnell added to his growing collection of clutch goals with a tally that put the game out of reach in the game's final minutes.
Nashville goaltender Chris Mason made a number of key stops in his third appearance of the season to earn his second win and raise the Predators' record to 13-3-3. Forward Jeremy Stevenson opened the scoring in the latter half of a first period in which the ice seemed titled in Nashville's favor.
"Tonight we came out really well," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "I was a little nervous because we didn't bury a lot of our chances in the first period. I thought we had 12 chances that we could have scored on. We ended up getting a goal from Jeremy Stevenson [just after] a power play. That was a huge goal, because I think if it ends up 0-0 after that first period, it might have been a little different scenario tonight."
Stevenson had just come onto the ice following a line change when defenseman Marek Zidlicky hit him with a long up-ice pass from the left face-off circle in Nashville's zone. The 6'1" left-handed shot received the pass on his forehand at the opposing blue line and skated in on the right wing, turning to square his shoulders to the net and fire a one-legged wrist shot that beat Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire to the far side. The goal, which came at 15:01 of the first, was one of 14 shots Nashville put on net in the opening 20 minutes, compared to seven by the Blue Jackets.
But the Jackets, who entered Wednesday night's contest on a five-game losing streak, came out strong to start the second. They knotted the game at 1-1 just 25 seconds into the middle period on a rebound goal by Nikolai Zherdev. The 21-year-old Russian winger failed on a wraparound attempt that went to Columbus' David Vyborny in the slot. His shot was turned away by Mason but rebounded wide to Mason's right where Zherdev retrieved it with a wide open goal in front of him.
The Predators halted the Blue Jackets' momentum less than three minutes later, answering with a power play tally by Hamhuis. Nashville further quieted the rebellion 57 seconds after that with an even-strength one-timer converted by Legwand. Hamhuis' goal, scored at 3:13, was set up by a cross-ice backdoor pass from Steve Sullivan. After playing catch with teammate Adam Hall in the lower right corner and surveying the penalty killers, Sullivan spotted Hamhuis lurking alone behind the defense and just beyond the goal crease. The second-year defenseman wasted no time burying the puck in a half-empty net.
A defensive zone turnover by Columbus center Ben Simon led directly to Legwand's score, as Scottie Upshall picked up the puck along the left boards and whirled to launch a shot on Leclaire. The rookie goaltender stopped Upshall's shot but allowed a rebound to Martin Erat in the left corner. Erat quickly delivered the puck to Legwand waiting in the slot and he beat Leclaire through the legs with a quick blast at 4:03. The 3-1 lead would last stand through the second intermission and well into the third period.
Some untimely trips to the penalty box by Nashville in the final 20 minutes gave Columbus hope and forced Mason and Nashville's penalty killers to come up big. The Predators defused one Blue Jackets power play early in the period, narrowly escaping a second Columbus goal at 7:16 when a sharp-angle shot by Dan Fritsche squeezed between Mason and the left goalpost but was declared "no goal" by officials because of a prior whistle. Columbus did get a power-play goal less than four minutes later, however, when Manny Malholtra was well positioned in the slot for a rebound that he put past Mason at 11:03.
Nashville failed to convert on their eighth man advantage shortly thereafter, and Mason was forced to make a particularly big save moments later to preserve the one-goal lead during the Blue Jackets' sixth power play of the night. "We responded really well and got the goal back," Trotz said, referring to his team's second-period resiliency. "That was really huge. And then Chris Mason made a huge save in the third when it was 3-2 [and they were] on the power play. He got the leg out and made a huge save."
Columbus tried to turn up the pressure as the final minutes ticked off the clock, but a shot block by Hall and his subsequent quick chip off the boards sent Hartnell in the other direction on a breakaway with less than two minutes remaining. Hartnell attempted a backhand shot that was stopped by Leclaire, but the Predators left wing stuck with the play and switched to his forehand to lift the rebound over the Columbus goaltender for a 4-2 lead.
"When [Hartnell] made that big goal, he played that power game," Trotz said of the 6'2", 210-pound Predator who has netted a team-high four game-winning goals. "I was so glad, on that last goal he scored, that he took the shot, made his moves, but he didn't go flying by. He stopped and had two or three other whacks at it and he just stayed very composed and got a big goal for us there at the end.
"One of the keys was we needed everybody to step up," said Trotz, who was forced before game time to scratch injured captain Greg Johnson from a Nashville lineup that was already missing Scott Walker and Scott Nichol. "We have some guys that are maybe playing more minutes than they have, different roles, and I thought everybody contributed. We got a goal from Jeremy Stevenson, Scott Hartnell, Legwand. We got a power play goal. Our penalty killing did a really good job. There are a lot of our regular penalty killers that are out right now. From our standpoint it was a tough place to come into because Columbus was very motivated.... It was a good win for us."
Mason turned away 35 of Columbus' 37 shots for the game, including 15 of 16 in the third period. Leclaire stopped 37 of a season-high 41 shots by Nashville, who outshot their opponent for only the fifth time this season.
The Predators won't have long to celebrate the win, as they will be back in action at home Thursday night for a Thanksgiving tilt against the Los Angeles Kings. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Gaylord Entertainment Center and tickets are still available. To order, call (615) 770-PUCK, purchase online, or visit any Ticketmaster outlet. The game will not be televised in the Nashville area but will be broadcast on WGFX-104.5 FM The Zone.
Notes: With two assists Wednesday night, Adam Hall posted his first multi-point game of the season, tied his career highs for assists in a game and points in a game and extended his scoring streak to three games. He has two goals and two assists in that span... All three of David Legwand's goals this season have been game-winners, including Wednesday night's second-period tally against Columbus... Legwand's nine shots Wednesday night are the most by a Predator this season and tie the franchise record, most recently set by Adam Hall on 1/1/03 vs. Colorado... The Predators are now 7-1-2 against teams in their own Central Division... With an assist Wednesday, winger Martin Erat has scored at least one point in eight of his last 12 games... Defenseman Marek Zidlicky's assist on Jeremy Stevenson's opening goal gives him points in two straight games and in four of his last five... The Predators are 11-0-0 when scoring at least three goals in regulation... Forward Steve Sullivan registered an assist in his first full game back after missing two with a groin strain... Sullivan used his speed and puck handling skills to draw three consecutive hooking penalties on Columbus players over a 13:16 span in the first and second periods... Center Jerred Smithson was back in the lineup after missing Saturday's game against Minnesota with a bruised shoulder... Defenseman Kimmo Timonen had his point- and assist-scoring streaks snapped at five games after going pointless Wednesday night... Forward Paul Kariya also had his points streak snapped at four games... The Predators' power play, which entered Wednesday's game ranked 10th overall with a 19.4% conversion rate, went one of eight (12.5%) against the Blue Jackets... The Predators' penalty killing, which entered the game ranked third overall with an 85.8% success rate, went five for six (83.3%)... Nashville won 60% of the face-offs against Columbus, led by Vern Fiddler who won 13 of his 15 draws (87%)... 15,833 were in attendance at Nationwide Arena.