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Predators shake slump in St. Louis

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

After a shaky start that resulted in a goaltender change just 4:40 into the game, the Nashville Predators settled down, revived their latent power play and got two goals from Vernon Fiddler en route to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night at Savvis Center. With the win, Nashville snaps a four-game losing streak and improves its record to 25-11-3 overall and 10-0-1 against teams in its own division.

"It was [a big gut-check win] for a number of reasons," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "We played in Colorado [Tuesday] against a very good team, and we expended a lot of energy in the third period [of that game]. We traveled, got in really late [Tuesday] night, and then played St. Louis. St. Louis is a much better team than their record.... They're playing really hard. They're a physical team. We took them to task in terms of matching their energy and their physical play and all the stuff like that. So I thought it was a real good character victory for us."

Chris Mason got the start in goal for the Predators as they wrapped up back-to-back road games. After a couple of early chances for Nashville, St. Louis forward Ryan Johnson--brother of Predators captain Greg Johnson--cashed in on a two-on-one rush with Jamal Mayers to give the Blues a 1-0 lead 3:26 into the game. Mayers lofted a pass over the stick of defenseman Danny Markov to Johnson, who deked to the right then deposited the puck to the left of Mason.

The lead lasted only 18 seconds, though, because Fiddler drove home his first of the night, unassisted, at 3:44 to make it 1-1. "Our first forechecker went and pressured their defenseman," Trotz explained, "and Fidds read the pass. The guy was going to throw a cross-ice pass. Fidds put the brakes on and then basically the guy passes right to him in the slot. Fidds just buried it."

Just 16 seconds after Fiddler's goal, lightning struck yet again as Blues forward Petr Cajanek took a feed from Dallas Drake and put the puck into the upper right corner of the net. Cajanek's third tally of the season restored St. Louis' one-goal buffer at the 4:00 mark and completed a three-goal, 34-second flurry--a new Predators record for the fastest three goals scored by both teams in a period. After giving up two goals on three shots, Mason was pulled in favor of Tomas Vokoun with 4:40 gone in the first period.

"We left [Mason] high and dry in terms of the two goals that they scored," Trotz said. "We had played really well--[St. Louis] really didn't have any chances. Then all of the sudden they get two and they scored on both of them. I can't fault Mase on any of the goals. I just looked to change the momentum a little bit, and we put Tomas in. Tomas didn't have any shots [Tuesday] night in the third period, so he had a relatively easy night."

From that point forward, the dust began to settle, and after killing a high-sticking penalty to Paul Kariya, the Predators netted the tying goal. Forwards Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan had been playing catch with the puck in the Blues zone when Sullivan took two backhand shots on net. His first was stopped but his second attempt beat Blues goaltender Curtis Sanford to the near post and evened the score at 9:54.

A huge save by Vokoun on Dean McAmmond a minute later definitively snapped the game out of its seesaw scoring cycle. The Predators closed the period with a few quality chances on the power play and kept the pressure on in the second. Paul Kariya had two of the better chances for Nashville before he and Kimmo Timonen set up Fiddler for his second goal of the game at 9:34. Coming on the power play, Fiddler's seventh of the season put Nashville ahead for the first time and eased the pressure on the club's struggling power play. Nearly 10 minutes later, Kariya notched another one on the man advantage after defenseman Marek Zidlicky froze the Blues with a fake slapshot and dished the puck down low. Kariya's blistering shot gave the Predators a two-goal cushion with 35 seconds remaining in the period.

The Blues, who had skated to a 2-1-1 record in their last four games, came out with renewed determination in the third and capitalized on a tripping penalty to Danny Markov whistled at 4:31. Just eight seconds into the power play, Doug Weight backhanded a rebound past Vokoun to close the gap to 4-3, and St. Louis would go on to outshoot Nashville nine to four in the final stanza. But Weight's goal would be the only one to beat Vokoun, who stopped 18 of 19 shots in his relief appearance.

Next, the Predators return home but remain within the division for a match-up against the first-place Detroit Red Wings Friday night. The 7 p.m. game is sold out, but it will be televised on FSN South and broadcast on 104.5 FM The Zone. A Sunday night showdown in Chicago follows, with Nashville returning to the Gaylord Entertainment Center again on Tuesday for a game against the New York Islanders. Tickets remain for that contest and can be ordered by calling (615) 770-PUCK, purchasing online, or visiting the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster location.

Notes: Thursday's practice session, scheduled for noon at Centennial Sportsplex, has been canceled to give the team the day off. Only players on the injured reserve list will skate.... Vernon Fiddler posted the first two-goal game of his NHL career Wednesday, and he was named the game's First Star. He has established new career highs for goals (7) and points (8) in a season. The game was his second multi-point effort of 2005-06... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun earned the win in relief of Chris Mason and improves his record to 20-8-2, ranking him among the league leaders in wins... Paul Kariya notched a goal and an assist for his first points in five games. His tally was his first game-winning goal of the season... Yanic Perreault posted one assist against St. Louis, and now has 12 points (6g, 6a) in his last 12 games... Marek Zidlicky pocketed an assist on Kariya's goal and now has 25 points (7g, 18a) in his last 25 games... With his goal Wednesday, Steve Sullivan has 15 points (9g, 6a) in his last 15 games... Martin Erat, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell collected one assist each on Wednesday... Mark Eaton logged a season-high 23:19 of ice time against St. Louis and posted a +1 rating... Scottie Upshall logged a season-high 17:49 of ice time, besting his previous mark by over four and a half minutes. He also posted a +1 rating... Nashville's power play went two-for-four on the night while the Blues converted on one of three opportunities... Nashville improved its top-ranked record for wins when an opponent scores first to 13-4-1... Rookie defenseman Ryan Suter was a healthy scratch for the Predators... A total of 12,747 were in attendance at Savvis Center.

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