Photo by John Russell
J.P. Dumont, here between Toronto's goalie Andrew Raycroft and defenseman Tomas Kaberle, scored the game-winner on the power play Thursday.
The Nashville Predators defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Nashville converted twice on the power play and was a perfect 8-for-8 on the penalty kill to win the special teams battle the ultimately decided the game. J.P. Dumont's third-period tally, which made it a 3-1 game, proved to be the game winner, as Toronto cut the lead to 3-2 with 3:47 left in regulation. Vern Fiddler added an empty net goal at 19:28 to seal the win for Nashville.
Steve Sullivan scored during a 5-on-3 power play in the second period to break a 1-1 tie and send Nashville into the third period with a lead. David Legwand put the Predators up 1-0 in the first but Alexei Ponikarovsky tied the game 31 seconds later.
With the win, Nashville improves to 38-15-3 on the season and overtakes the NHL's top spot by leapfrogging idle Buffalo. The Predators opened a three-point lead over the Detroit Red Wings for the Central Division lead. Detroit was shut out by St. Louis 1-0 Thursday.
The match started rather uneventfully, with the Predators failing to register a shot on goal until the 14:30 mark. There was a lot of up-and-down play with the teams trading chances, but Nashville's early shots off the rush sailed wide of the net on several occasions. Toronto's chances were largely the product of turnovers and overly optimistic passes by the Predators.
The action began to heat up when Nashville's Sheldon Brookbank and Toronto's Kris Newbury dropped the gloves with 11:10 gone. The battle between these NHL newcomers--Brookbank was playing in his second NHL contest and Newbury in his 13th--ended as an entertaining draw.
Scott Hartnell registered the home team's first shot on goal seconds after outsmarting Leafs defenseman Hal Gill in the corner and cutting off a pass. Hartnell's shot from the slot was turned aside by goaltender Andrew Raycroft, but Nashville got on the board less than 30 seconds later. The Predators changed their forwards on the fly and the new unit capitalized on a Toronto turnover at the Leafs' blue line. Martin Erat made a nice pass to allow Legwand to slip behind the defense and skate in alone on goal. Legwand measured Raycroft and beat him to the left side to make it 1-0 at 14:53.
Toronto evened the game on the next shift, when captain Mats Sundin carried the puck in on the left side of Nashville's zone and fired an off-wing shot on Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun. The rebound went back to Sundin as he cruised to the left of the goal, and Vokoun lost traction as he committed to a possible shot. Sundin instead curled behind the net and sent the puck out to Ponikarovsky, who deposited it into the open net.
Nashville went on the power play 2:28 into the second period. The Preds were unable to convert but generated multiple chances and gained some momentum. They cashed in on that momentum a couple of minutes later, with Sundin and Tomas Kaberle in the penalty box. Both Sundin (roughing) and Kaberle (holding) went off at 5:14, giving Nashville's power play units a full two minutes of 5-on-3 play to work with. The Predators would only need 1:09 to score, however, as Sullivan fired home a cross-ice feed from Paul Kariya after Sullivan had unsuccessfully tried to set up Kariya three times on a mirror of the scoring play. The power-play goal at 6:23 put the Preds up 2-1.
The two linemates who combined on Nashville's first goal--Erat and Legwand--nearly made it a 3-1 game midway through the second period. A hooking penalty to Erat was expiring as Sullivan gathered the puck in Nashville's zone. Sullivan chipped the puck of the right-side boards just as two Maple Leafs headed to the bench for a line change. The change allowed the puck to proceed along the boards for Erat to pick up and carry over the far blue line on right wing. Erat centered to Legwand, who was streaking down the slot and lifted a great scoring chance over the Toronto net.
Vokoun was called on to make some big saves in the latter half of the second period, especially during a strong shift from Sundin's line around the 13:00 mark. After being outshot 14-5 in the first period, Nashville closed the gap with a 13-9 second-period edge in shots.
The Predators were on their heels a bit early in the third period, but a hooking call against Jeff O'Neill put Nashville on its ninth power play of the night. Defenseman Ryan Suter hustled to just hold the puck in on the blue line, prevent an offsides situation and allowing the Predators to remain in the offensive zone. Suter passed the puck to Alexander Radulov, who in turn found Sullivan in the left corner. Sullivan spotted Dumont gliding down the right wing unmarked and fed him for a shot that banked in off of Raycroft. The goal, Dumont's 11th of the year, made it 3-1 for Nashville.
The Predators' penalty killers came up huge moments later when Scottie Upshall was whistled for kneeing Alex Steen in a neutral zone collision. Dan Hamhuis and Greg Zanon both sacrificed themselves to block threatening shots, Fiddler broke up a scoring chance with his stick and Vokoun made a big save against Sundin during the two-minute kill.
A misplay by Vokoun half a minute after the Upshall's penalty expired let Toronto back into the game. Vokoun skated way out of his net to retreive a dumped puck but realized he was not going to win the race against Leafs forward Boyd Devereaux. With Vokoun helpless below the left circle, Devereaux centered the puck to Chad Kilger for what amounted to an empty net goal at 16:13.
Another Toronto penalty in the closing minutes hampered any potential Leafs rally, and Fiddler put the final nail in the coffin with a true empty netter with 31.5 remaining.
NOTES: Thursday's win was Nashville's eighth straight at home and the Predators are now 20-3-3 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center... David Legwand set a new career-high by scoring his 19th goal of the season. It was the 98th of his career... J.P. Dumont's goal was his first game-winner of the season. Fifteen different Predators have scored a game winning goal in 2006-07... Jason Arnott registered two assists to give him 41 points so far this season. He becomes the sixth Nashville player to reach the 40-point mark. Arnott has points in eight of Nashville's last nine games (4g-7a=11pts)... The Predators are 29-7-1 when scoring first... Nashville penalty killers were a perfect 8-for-8 Thursday and have killed off 30 of 31 power-play chances against over the last seven games... The Predators are 7-2-0 against the Eastern Conference this season... Nashville is 26-1-3 when leading after two periods... Steve Sullivan posted one goal and one assist and now has points in 11 of the last 12 games (7g-9a=16pts)... Tomas Vokoun recorded his second straight win... Nashville outscored Toronto 1-0 in the second period and has now outscored opponents by a combined 76-39 in the middle frame this season... Scott Hartnell won all six face-offs he took Thursday night and Scott Nichol won 7 of 10... Greg Zanon blocked a game-high 6 shots... Shea Weber, Jerred Smithson and Josef Vasicek were scratched from the Predators lineup.
PREDATORS HEAD COACH BARRY TROTZ
Did you feel like the team was in desperation mode coming into game?
"I don't know about desperation mode, but I think concern mode. And I was concerned after the first period. I didn't think we engaged into the game very quickly. Sometimes that happens when you play out of conference, you don't engage right away. I was a little disappointed at that. But I give Toronto full credit. They played a real strong first period. But I didn't think we skated. We tried to play more their style than play our style. So I think in the second period we engaged a little bit more and we just skated. We got a big goal on the power play--5 on 3--and we just kept skating a forcing them to take penalties on us. And I thought that was a real key. And obviously special teams were good. Penalty killers did an outstanding job. I thought Tomas did a good job. Our power play came up with two power play goals, so for the most part I didn't care for the first period but I thought the second and third periods we skated the way we could and forced them into areas that they didn't want to go.
On what the penalty kill did to be so effective...
I give a lot of credit to the penalty killers.... We know Sundin wants to run a lot of that. We did a good job of taking away their points, and I thought Greg Zanon was sort of the unsung hero. He blocked as many Sundin shots as anybody. He blocked a lot of shots tonight and did a great job down low. All of the penalty killers did a great job and obviously your best penalty killer is in the net and he did a good job.
Any of those penalties concern you or were they just calling it tight?
Don't make me go there. We've got to be more disciplined. Let's put it that way. The games are called--it's all in the eye of the beholder. So I always tell our guys, 'Don't go near that place that you have to go where they might call a penalty.' I think both sides--both myself and Paul Maurice--would probably say that some were warranted and some weren't. But at the same time, both teams can't take that many penalties in the game.
Thoughts on taking back first place in the NHL tonight
I'm concerned more about first place in the division than I am anything. I think that's priority No. 1 for us. Let's make sure that that's where we are and St. Louis helped us along today. That was important to get a little more breathing room.
PREDATORS FORWARD STEVE SULLIVAN
On playing desperately
We were better. I think that we're going to take the win, but there are still some areas that we can work on. Obviously, we let them into the hockey game too long. I don't think we were desperate enough in the first period. On the overall, we managed to get the win, but we weren't too worried about how desperate Toronto was. We needed this win; we need to get back on our winning ways.
On the power-play improving
Our power-play has been great on home ice. It's on the road that we're having problems with it. Our goal is to score one power-play goal a game and try to be the difference and the penalty-kill shuts them down to try and try to win these 'special teams wars,' and we were able to do that tonight. If we continue to do that, we will be successful in the last 25 games.
On Tomas Vokoun's game
He was outstanding in net. I thought we did a good job diverting the shots again from the outside and letting him see a lot of shots. They took a lot of perimeter shots, but he wasn't giving up any rebounds. He was solid in net. Every game he seems to be getting better and better.
PREDATORS GOALTENDER TOMAS VOKOUN
On him playing the puck that lead to Toronto's second goal
They scored a goal and it's three to two, but it would be a lot harder if it was two to one. It was obviously a bad play, but the object is to win the game and we did win that. It was just a bad play by me, but there's nothing else you can say about that.
On the Predators penalty-kill
Both the power-play and penalty-kill were good and that's what won us the game. It was key. Guys blocked some big shots. Obviously, we don't want to take as many penalties as we did, but we were fortunate enough to kill them off tonight.
On winning on home ice
They're a good crowd. It was a fun game to play. We've been through that last year. We played pretty good here at home, but somehow we need to find a way to play better here at home. Lately, we've been bad, so for what ever reason, because in playoff time, you have to win on the road to advance.
PREDATORS RIGHT WING J.P. DUMONT
On the power-play
We know they have some big guys out there on the (penalty kill). We had to move the puck better and get some shots on goal, and that's what we did tonight. (Sullivan) made an unbelievable pass to me right there, twice in a row actually, just tried to find the open ice for him and he found me out there and I put it in. It was a big goal on a five-on-three, too. When we have a full two minutes on the five-on-three, we have to score a goal to give the team momentum and that's what we did.
PREDATORS RIGHT WING J.P. DUMONT
On the game
It was a strange game. It was hard to get the feel for both sides. It was power-play against power-play tonight. The (penalty kill) did an unbelievable job. We played well all around, but our (penalty kill) was definitely our best aspect tonight and (Vokoun) made the big saves.
On the pressure of playing Toronto
Right now, this time of the season, every team is playing for a playoff spot. Right now, for us, our goal is to finish first. We are battling right now with Detroit for that. Every game is really important. It doesn't matter who we are playing and we know every team is going to try and come and beat us. That's a fact we have to face every game. When you're first in the division, every team wants to come and play a big games against you. We have to make sure to bring our 'A' game.
TORONTO HEAD COACH PAUL MAURICE
Ending the road trip on a sour note do you still take away positives?
"Tomorrow, not tonight. Just get out of town. We to be honest with you won't spend a whole lot of time looking back cause we gotta get back to work on Saturday. That's the challenge in this stretch - to take a punch and get back at it."
Do you feel like the team saved the season with this 5-win segment?
"We're going to feel that of every 5 win segment from here on out. It's a critical run in this season. We go back, we had a month there from mid November to mid December where we struggled and then even with injuries from really that 3rd week in December on we've had a pretty good team."
How do you feel you matched up?
"When your assessed 5 minors in the second you don't have much in the tank. They didn't have an answer for Sundin's line. They were just dominant down low and controlled the puck but couldn't finish or draw a penalty for whatever reason."
TORONTO FORWARD CHAD KILGER
"It's frustrating. I thought we played a pretty hard game but ended up too many times in the box."
On the stretch of 5 wins
"You see the standings, everyone is winning so we gotta continue to win and play well. And were playing really good hockey the last little while."
On Nashville's speed
"They're a quick team. But we've seen some quick teams too. They got a lot of speed up front. And they got a lot of little shifty guys and pretty confident with the puck and I guess we laid a couple too many stick on them."
TORONTO DEFENSEMAN BRYAN MCCABE
"Yep, we played pretty well tonight but we beat ourselves with all the penalties. Just couldn't stay out of the box. You give a team that number of power plays they are going to capitalize eventually."
On the penalties
"We thought we did a pretty good job on the penalty kill. Just there were so many that eventually with 2 minute 5 on 3 good players are going to get a goal.