Photo by John Russell
Predators forward Scottie Upshall celebrates after Martin Erat's shot beats Blues goaltender Patrick Lalime. Upshall was credited with the primary assist on the goal.
Though there were plenty of fireworks in the first period of Saturday night's game between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues, it was Mike Sillinger's power-play goal 41 seconds into the third period that sparked the Predators to a 2-1 win at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Martin Erat
scored the game-winner 2:27 after Sillinger's tally and Nashville killed off a tense four-minutes of short-handed play in the waning moments.
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the Predators, whose record improves to 43-23-8 on the season. Nashville will close out a three-game homestand Monday night when it hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The wild first period started with a hard hit by Scott Nichol in the St. Louis zone while forechecking roughly three minutes in. Then Jordin Tootoo pummelled the larger Jeff Woywitka at 3:45 to fire up the crowd of 14,480. Brendan Witt was a participant in a number of exchanges as well, drawing roughing and fighting penalties in the first half of the period.
"We wanted to come out hard and they came out hard," Nichol said. "Credit to Tootoo and [Witt], they came out and set the tone. [The Blues] thought they were going to come push us around in our own rink, and it was an entertaining first period."
A power-play goal at the 11:43 mark put the Blues up 1-0. A shot from the right side ended up in a forest of legs in front of goaltender Tomas Vokoun, and St. Louis' Mike Glumac was the first to locate the puck. His swat at it was enough to put it past Vokoun. It turned out to be the only goal in a period that was full of chances for both sides. At one end, Vokoun turned away Keith Tkachuk and Christian Backman before stumping ex-Predator Timofei Shishkanov on his point-blank shot. At the other end, Paul Kariya failed to convert on a partial breakaway with 6:30 gone then Martin Erat hit the post half a minute later. But Nashville's best chances in the period came from the stick of Yanic Perreault during Nashville's second power play, which started at 12:08. Stationed in front of the net, Perreault came close by tipping shots from defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Kimmo Timonen, then was unable to stuff a third chance inside the right post before Blues goalie Patrick Lalime recovered.
"We didn't bury our chances in the first period and that almost came back to haunt us," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said.
With less than a minute left until the first intermission, Tootoo and Tkachuk had a confrontation while lining up for a face-off. It began with Tkachuk sticking Tootoo on the legs and Tootoo responding in kind. Within seconds the two were chest to chest and exchanging words. Tkachuk shoved Tootoo to back him up, then one of the two referees stepped in and whistled Tootoo for a 10-minute misconduct penalty. Tkachuk was not penalized.
"I thought it was a little unfair," Trotz said. "Tootoo had a real good fight with Woywitka, and I thought he got the better of him. Then every time [Tootoo] stepped on the ice, either Jamal Mayers or one of their players tried to entice him into a fight. On that play, Tkachuk followed him all the way to the face-off dot, was egging him on, egging him on, then cross-checks him and 'Toots' gets the 10 minutes."
Photo by John Russell
Jordin Tootoo overpowers rookie defenseman Jeff Woywitka in a fight 3:45 into the game.
"I'm speechless," Tootoo said when asked about the call. "I guess it's out of respect of Tkachuk, and me being me."
Ten seconds later, Sillinger was slapped with a questionable tripping penalty, and the Predators and the Gaylord Entertainment Center crowd became visibly and audibly frustrated with the officiating.
When the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the first period, St. Louis led in the shot category 15-11. By the 5:00 mark of the second period, Nashville had drawn even, 17-17. The flurry of shots was the result of a spirited start in which the Predators looked as if they were on the power play at times despite skating five-on-five. By the end of the somewhat hypnotic period, though, the tables had turned and the Predators were the ones having trouble exiting their zone and retaining possession of the puck. Nashville outshot St. Louis 14-9 for the period, but was unable to make a dent in the 1-0 deficit until Sillinger lit the lamp early in the third and gave the Predators some momentum.
"We didn't play that bad for 40 minutes," Erat said. "We just couldn't score. We had some good chances."
Tkachuk's hooking penalty at the 20:00 mark of the second period put the Predators on the power play with a smooth sheet of ice to start the third. Nashville set up in the Blues' zone and worked the puck around the perimeter. Sillinger tipped a Timonen shot wide. Seconds later, Timonen passed the puck from the right point down to Kariya, who was approaching him along the right wall. Kariya curled above the right circle and sent the puck down to Perreault at the goal line to the right of St. Louis' net. Suddenly his sharp-angle shot created a rebound, and Sillinger was in front to chip it home.
"I thought we did a good job moving the puck around and getting the puck to the net, but it was a matter of finding the rebounds," said Sillinger, who reach a milestone by skating in his 900th NHL game Saturday. "That's what the goal was. Paul made a great play to Yanic and he took it right to the net. He's tough to move down low and he scooped it right in [Lalime's] pads, and the rebound was lying there."
The goal, which came :41 into the third period, knotted the score at 1-1 and invigorated the Predators. "We knew that first power play to start the third period was really, really critical for us," Trotz said. "That was a little opening in the window that allowed us to get in there and energize the whole building really."
The lift resulted in a second goal that put Nashville ahead at 3:08. Vokoun's save on a shot by Dean McAmmond was quickly shuffled by David Legwand and Scottie Upshall to Martin Erat, who charged out of the defensive zone on a two-on-two rush with Upshall. Erat, speeding up the right wing, took a sharp left at the top of the right circle. "Something happened with the defenseman's skates and he tripped on the red line," Erat said. "I knew when I cut it to the middle he's not going to have that speed."
Indeed, Erat had a step on the defender by the time he released a wrist shot from the high slot area. Upshall, meanwhile, charged straight to the net, allowing Erat to use him and his defender as a screen against Lalime. The goal, Erat's 18th of the season, would be the eventual game winner.
But the conclusion was not without its drama. Perreault, visibly drained at the end of a shift, was given a double-minor for high-sticking at 15:04. That forced the Predators to spend four of the final five minutes short-handed while trying to preserve a one-goal lead.
"[St. Louis] had one great chance," Trotz said, referring to a shot by Blues forward Scott Young at 16:30 that was saved by Vokoun but ended up loose in the crease. "Tomas made a great save, and Mark Eaton maybe made the bigger save by sliding the puck out of the crease area. Real alert play on his part. A legal play, because he didn't grab the puck. He just scooped it out."
The Blues' power play ended with a flurry of chances and shots wide of the mark. Penalty killer Adam Hall made a couple of big clears down the stretch to alleviate the pressure in Nashville's zone and defuse the power play.
"Yanic Perreault will have to thank everybody on the penalty kill there," Trotz said. "Good to be lucky, lucky to be good because there was a little bit of luck involved in that too. Yes, they were desperate. They got in front of pucks and found way to get it done."
Notes: Notes: Saturday's win was Nashville's eighth this season when trailing after two periods (8-17-2). The Predators are now 21-10-2 when their opponent scores first... Nashville outshot St. Louis 38-35... Mike Sillinger scored his 28th goal of the season and now has goals in four straight games. He has points in five straight (4g-3a=7pts)... Martin Erat scored his career-high 18th goal of the season. It was his first game-winning goal of the 2005-06 campaign... Paul Kariya assisted on Sillinger's goal and now has points in four straight games (2g-3a=5pts) and in seven of his last eight (5g-6a=11pts)... Yanic Perreault assisted on Sillinger's goal and has now collected a career-high 30 assists this season. He has 51 points, which is five away from tying his career high (56, set in 2001-02)... Vokoun stopped 34 of 35 shots for his 36th win of the season. Blues starter Patrick Lalime, who stopped 35 of 37 shots, left the game 11:00 into the third period following a collision with Scott Hartnell. He was replaced by backup Reinhard Divis, who saved the only shot he faced... David Legwand posted his 15th assist of the season on Erat's goal. The Predators are now 27-7-5 with Legwand in the lineup and 16-6-3 with Scott Walker in the lineup... Scottie Upshall picked up the other assist on Erat's goal and now has three helpers in his last five games. Upshall also finished Saturday's game with a +1 rating, increasing his team-leading plus/minus to +13... The victory was Nashville's 28th home win (28-7-1), second only to the Carolina Hurricanes who have 29. The win was Nashville's 43rd overall this season, giving the club a total of 94 points in the standings--three more than the franchise's previous best... The Predators are 24-13 in one-goal games... Saturday's win was Nashville's second straight win on April 1. The team defeated Chicago 3-1 on April 1, 2004... Scratches for Nashville were Marek Zidlicky, Ryan Suter, Jerred Smithson, Steve Sullivan and Vern Fiddler. Darcy Hordichuk served the final game of a three-game suspension... Sunday's practice, scheduled for noon at Centennial Sportsplex, was cancelled by head coach Barry Trotz.
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (5:46)
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