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Predators return to form in 4-1 win

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Scott Hartnell scores
Photo by Noah Graham/Getty
Predators forward Scott Hartnell (kneeling) celebrates after scoring off a feed from teammate Martin Erat (left) during Nashville's second power play Thursday.

The Nashville Predators used strong special teams play to defeat the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 Thursday night at the STAPLES Center in L.A. Nashville sandwiched two power-play goals around a short-handed tally in the second period, then added another power-play goal in the third. Predators goaltender Chris Mason stopped 20 of 21 Kings shots to earn his seventh win of the season.

Martin Erat posted three assists as the Predators skated well and forced the Kings to take numerous penalties. It was a solid performance following two relatively frustrating losses in the first half of the current four-game West Coast road trip. Scott Hartnell, Jerred Smithson, Kimmo Timonen and Alexander Radulov lit the lamp for Nashville.

The victory improves Nashville's record to 18-7-3 and gives the club its first win in five games in Los Angeles. The Predators' trip concludes with a 9:30 p.m. CT game Saturday night in San Jose.

Though there was no scoring in the first, it was evident that Nashville was off to a strong start. Playing for a second night in a row necessitated quick line changes for the Predators, who were putting the puck on the net early. The energy line of Smithson, Jordin Tootoo and Darcy Hordichuk delivered a strong shift around the 7:00 mark, and gave way to Paul Kariya and Scott Nichol on a line change. Kariya centered to Nichol on a rush, requiring Kings goaltender Dan Cloutier to make a right leg pad save to keep Nashville off the scoreboard.

Just over a minute later, Nashville forced two turnovers that resulted in prime scoring chances that were sent just wide of the net by defenseman Marek Zidlicky then Erat. L.A.'s best chance came at 18:10, when Lubomir Visnovsky hit the post with a shot from the left point.

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Mason kept it 0-0 1:45 into the second period when he stopped a tricky point shot that was tipped en route by Tom Kostopoulos. Then Nashville went up 1-0 at the 6:46 mark with a power-play goal. Hartnell staked out space in front of Cloutier and planted his stick on the ice. That presented a target for Erat, who sent a tape-to-tape pass from the right corner. Hartnell, falling forward from a crosscheck by defenseman Aaron Miller, redirected the puck between Cloutier's legs for his team-leading 11th goal of the season.

Mason made his best save of the night midway through the period, moving laterally to rob Anze Kopitar at the right post. With Nashville short-handed, a Kings shot from the left side was blocked off the end boards and rebounded to Kopitar alone at the right of the Predators' goal. Kopitar was staring at plenty of open net when he lifted a shot from close range, but Mason's glove suddenly appeared in time to inhale Kopitar's chance. The play was reviewed to determine whether the puck crossed the plane of the goal line in Mason's glove, but the referees' initial no-goal ruling stood.

The save was key, as Nashville parlayed the momentum into its second goal. Still on the power-play, Los Angeles was regrouping in its own end when defenseman Peter Harrold fanned on a pass and left the puck sitting in the center of the Kings' zone. Smithson was forechecking and jumped on the opportunity, using blueliner Mattias Norstrom as a screen for his shot from the high slot. The puck whizzed by Cloutier at 10:51 to give the Predators a 2-0 lead.

Tootoo's hard--and legal--hit on Miller with 12 minutes gone in the period prompted Jeff Cowan to retaliate and earn a roughing penalty. Nashville capitalized again on the man advantage to make it 3-0 at 14:17. Timonen skated the puck down from the left point to just beside the left face-off dot before unleashing a shot on net. Hartnell had set up a perfect screen in front of Cloutier, moving aside just in time to let Timonen's wrister ripple the jersey fabric on Cloutier's right arm as it passed through into the net.

Predators celebrate
Photo by Noah Graham/Getty
Predators celebrate Jerred Smithson's short-handed tally that made it 2-0 in the second period.

Tootoo again delivered a stiff check on Miller and again drew a roughing penalty--this time on Miller. A hooking penalty to Rob Blake then led to a 36-second 5-on-3 power play for Nashville. As the second period drew to a close, Kariya and Hartnell twice came within inches of scoring on an exact replay of Hartnell's earlier goal from Erat.

Los Angeles cut its deficit to two goals when Alexander Frolov scored at 3:40 of the third. A bouncing puck eluded two Predators in their own zone, allowing Sean Avery to center a pass to Frolov for a shot that was initially stopped by Mason. Frolov got his stick on the rebound and his chance hit another stick to redirect past Mason and make it 3-1.

Three minutes later, close calls by J.P. Dumont and Nichol near the Kings' net led to successive L.A. penalties and a 50-second 5-on-3 power-play for Nashville. The Predators didn't score during the two-man advantage, but took a 4-1 lead before the second penalty--another hooking call against Blake--expired. The play started with Erat carrying the puck from behind his own net into the Kings' zone. Once he crossed the far blue line in the middle of the ice, he dished the puck to Josef Vasicek on the left side. Radulov, who had been filling the right wing, then cut to the middle to create space for himself. Vasicek hit Radulov with a pass, and the rookie winger ripped a shot from the high slot to just inside the right post at 7:57.

Nashville continued to draw penalties down the stretch and closed out the game, outshooting the Kings 8-6 over the final 20 minutes. Predators penalty killers nullified two L.A. power plays in the third and a total of three for the game as the visitors showed good discipline by keeping their trips to the penalty box to a minimum.

NOTES: Predators scoring leader Steve Sullivan tweaked his groin while stretching to stay onside late in the first period and did not return for the second or third periods... Martin Erat registered the first three-assist game of his career and his first three-point game of the season. Three points ties the most he has scored in a single game--he has done so six times including Thursday's performance... Scott Hartnell's goal was his team-leading seventh power-play goal... Kimmo Timonen's goal was his sixth of the season--fifth on the power play--and it was his team-leading 11th power-play point (5g-6a)... Jerred Smithson scored the first short-handed goal of his career and Nashville's fifth short-handed goal of the season... Josef Vasicek posted an assist and now has four helpers over the past five games... Alexander Radulov scored his eighth goal of the season and now has six goals over the past eight games... David Legwand and Mikko Lehtonen were scratches for Nashville.


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