Photo by John Russell
Mike Sillinger raises his arms in celebration of his second goal of the night after beating goaltender Josh Harding with a shot high to the glove side.
Mike Sillinger scored twice and defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Shea Weber
each chipped in a power play goal to lead the Nashville Predators to a 4-2 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. With the victory, the Predators locked themselves into fourth-place in the Western Conference standings and clinched home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.
Sillinger's first goal, his 30th of the year, broke a 1-1 tie and gave Nashville a lead they would never lose. "Obviously it's nice to score 30 goals, but it feels even better to get home ice," Sillinger said. "We've been a good team at home all year and it's a goal we've shot for. Now we have it."
The Predators, who have now won four games in a row, improve to 47-25-8 for the season and 30-8-1 at home. Goaltender Chris Mason, who was promoted to the No. 1 role this week after Tomas Vokoun's season was ended by a blood condition, has been in the net for all four victories and has allowed three goals in that span.
"It feels good," Mason said. "The guys are getting to know me on a regular basis and things like that. I think we're feeling comfortable all together. I'm feeling better every game."
Nashville opened the scoring late in the first period, when a series of penalties gave the Predators a lengthy stretch of power play time. The goal-producing play developed after Scott Walker, who had a strong game and was particularly effective on the penalty kill, made a nice play to keep the puck in the Minnesota zone. Seconds later, David Legwand passed from the right circle to Hamhuis, who had pinched all the way down to the top of the crease. Hamhuis simply executed a one-touch redirection of the puck past Wild goaltender Josh Harding to put Nashville up by one at 17:03.
A Predators penalty carried over into the second period and Brian Rolston capitalized just 28 seconds in to pull Minnesota even at 1-1. Twenty-one seconds later Nashville made another trip to the penalty box but came away unscathed thanks to strong penalty killing.
"We took a couple back-to-back type penalties, which that gets scary because that sort of builds momentum," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "They scored on the first power play and if they score on the second one, maybe they build some momentum. We had to get through that. We did. I thought our penalty killing was really excellent tonight."
Sillinger's first of two goals came at 4:03 to re-establish the lead for the Predators. What started as a race for a dumped-in puck ended with the veteran center stealing it from the defenseman, whirling and slinging the puck on net. The shot banked in through the legs of Harding to make the score 2-1.
"I just kind of shoved [the Wild defender] off the puck and turned around and threw it at the net," Sillinger said. "I think it surprised the goalie more than anything. It just snuck in five-hole, but good things happen when you put the puck to the net."
Trotz said that it's that type of determination that will be key to Nashville's post-season success. "The guy looks like he's going to get it and [Sillinger] picks his pocket and throws it at the net. Those are those secondary efforts that you're going to need in the playoffs."
The Predators went on to add two more goals to quash any thoughts of a comeback my Minnesota. Weber, who tallied the first of those two, said the team talked things over after giving up the early second-period goal. "We said we can't let it get to us," he said. "We can't have a roller coaster, up and down. We've got to keep our emotions in check and stay level throughout the game."
Weber's goal was another power-play score. Nashville already had a five-on-four advantage when forward Martin Erat drew a second penalty, which was delayed since the Predators maintained possession. From the tip of the umbrella formation, Kimmo Timonen sent the puck to Paul Kariya in the right circle. Kariya then quickly zipped a cross-ice pass to Weber for a ripping shot that beat Harding.
"I think he put [that pass] through about three guys and through a few sticks and right on the tape," Weber said of Kariya's assist. "Definitely a great pass."
It was the second goal of the night from the defense--a source of offense that has seemingly been more prevalent in recent games. In fact, seven of the Predators last 15 goals have come from blueliners.
"We're just contributing any way we can," Weber said of the defense corps. "Just getting shots on net with good traffic. The forwards are doing a good job."
"I think on the power play or five-on-five, adding that defenseman being part of the attack is crucial," Trotz said. "I think teams play so well defensively that you have to break teams down with the extra attacker, catching them off guard a little bit."
After Weber's goal, Nashville began pouring on the chances, outshooting the Wild 15-7 in the middle frame. Sillinger nearly made it 4-1 when he took another fantastic cross-ice feed from Kariya and stood to the left of the net with half of the open goal to shoot at. His release sent the puck parallel to the goal line, through the crease and harmlessly across to the right side of the ice, prompting groans of disbelief from the 12,087 in attendance.
Sillinger brought the crowd to its feet 1:51 into the third, though, as he fired from the right circle on the rush. His perfectly placed rising shot tucked itself just inside the top left corner after blazing by Harding.
"I knew that he catches with his right hand and he protects the bottom of the net really well," Sillinger said of the Minnesota netminder. "[Weber] made a great pass. He caught me in full stride. The 'D' was kind of backpedaling and [Harding] was backing in, so I figured I'd shoot it. Was I expecting to pick the top corner exactly like that? No, I wasn't. But I was planning to shoot high, yeah."
Wes Walz scored at the 9:13 mark to pull the Wild within two, but superb penalty killing down the stretch nullified two Minnesota power plays to preserve the 4-2 margin.
"Our defense has been really solid and goaltending has been solid," Trotz said. "You talk about building toward the playoffs--I think the guys are realizing it's coming up real quickly and they're working at their games. Everybody wants to be a part of that lineup and they're working real hard. All I'm asking is for them to make my job real hard of selecting the 20 guys that are going to dress every night."
Nashville will close out the regular season with two more home games--hosting Phoenix on Saturday and Detroit next Tuesday. Though Tuesday's finale is sold out, tickets are still available for Saturday's game. To order, call (615) 770-PUCK, order online or visit the GEC box office or any Ticketmaster location.
Notes: Captain Greg Johnson skated in his 500th game as a Predator, becoming the first and only player to ever do so... Nashville captured its 30th home win Thursday, extending the franchise record set earlier this season... The Predators tallied twice on the power play against Minnesota, the top-ranked penalty-killing team in the league. Nashville now has 91 power-play goals for the season, extending the new franchise record... Scottie Upshall collected three assists for his first three-point game of his career. He finished the night a +1 to improve his team-leading plus/minus rating to +12... Mike Sillinger scored twice for his first multi-goal game since joining the Predators. He now has 31 goals on the season, a career high... Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis each posted a goal and an assist Thursday. For Weber, it was his second two-point game in his last four. Hamhuis has four goals in his last nine games... Chris Mason set a new Predators record for longest shutout streak by an individual after keeping opponents off the scoreboard for exactly 143:00 minutes. The previous record was 141:37, set by Mason January 10 to January 25, 2004. Over his last six games, he has a record of 4-1, a .941 save percentage and a 1.50 goals-against average... Paul Kariya registered an assist and is now only one point away from 80 on the season (28g-51a=79pts)... Nashville has outscored the opposition 85-63 in the first period this year and is 25-14-6 when scoring first. The club is also 28-1-4 when carrying a lead into the third period... The Predators are 5-2-0 in April. With only two games remaining, they will finish the season with a winning record in each month except February (3-4-0)... Nashville went 13-6-1 against the Northwest Division this season. The Predators' record against the Western Conference stands at 43-22-5... Nashville's penalty killers surrendered the first power-play goal against since April 1 in St. Louis, having gone five straight games without allowing one... Scratches for Nashville were Yanic Perreault, Scott Hartnell, Marek Zidlicky, Tomas Vokoun, Ryan Suter, Steve Sullivan and Vern Fiddler.
Video: Watch the game highlights (1:05)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (11:02)
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