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Preds come up short in Dallas

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Predators discuss strategy during timeout.
Photo by Glenn James
Assistant coach Peter Horachek and the power play unit discuss strategy during a timeout with 53 seconds remaining.
The Nashville Predators found themselves down 2-0 to the Dallas Stars at the second intermission Wednesday night, and numerous third-period chances only produced one goal for a Predators club that suffered its third consecutive defeat, 2-1 at the American Airlines Center. Martin Erat scored the lone goal for Nashville, and center Scott Nichol was taken off the ice on a stretcher--his head and neck immobilized--after slamming hard into the end boards early in the second period.

Nichol, who gave a thumbs-up to the training staff as he left the ice, was taken to the hospital for further examination, and reportedly had feeling in all of his extremeties.

With the loss to Dallas, Nashville's record moves to 31-15-6 on the season. The game closes out a five-game road trip in which the Predators went 2-3. The team returns home to face Colorado Thursday night in a 7 p.m. contest at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

Neither Dallas or Nashville could gain the upper hand in a tightly contested first period of play, in which shots and chances were relatively even. Stars goaltender Marty Turco turned away the Predators' best opportunities--a point shot by Scott Hartnell that was followed with a rebound chance from Greg Johnson, and two quality opportunities where Yanic Perreault set up Paul Kariya on successive power plays. Turco also showed off his deft puck-handling skills less than six minutes into the game when he fired a quick pass over the red line to forward Mathias Tjarnqvist, who missed the net with a shot from the left wing.

Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun faced his biggest tests of the period in its second half, when Jussi Jokinen pounced on a turnover in the neutral zone and battled his way around Kimmo Timonen for a shot and a follow-up, and Jere Lehtinen was set up for a backhand attempt from the slot in the final seconds.

The 0-0 deadlock lasted only 1:19 into the second period, as Dallas came out of the locker room with immediate pressure. Jason Arnott entered the offensive zone and fired a shot that was saved and juggled by Vokoun, then swatted back out into play in the slot. An oncoming Brendan Morrow was canceled out by backchecking forward Scott Walker, who fell on the play and acted as a bulldozer, sliding on the ice and sweeping three other players to the right of the goal crease. Defenseman Philippe Boucher simultaneously pinched into the slot toward the loose puck and ripped a quick wrist shot past Vokoun into the left side of the net to give the Stars the 1-0 lead.

Mike Modano and Tomas Vokoun
Photo by Glenn James
Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun makes one of 21 saves as Dallas captain Mike Modano lurks for a rebound.
Vokoun stopped a threatening tipped shot by Jokinen less than a minute later, and Nichol then saved a sure goal when he tripped Tjarnqvist, who had the rebound of Mike Modano's shot and was eyeing a gaping right side of the net. Nashville killed off that penalty, and moments after Nichol returned to the ice he was involved in the scary collision that left him motionless on the ice at 5:02 of the middle period. With the Predators on the rush, Nichol stormed into the Stars zone and got tangled up with defenseman Trevor Daley while skating at a fast clip past the left post. The Predators center fell and slammed into the end boards with his head and shoulder region taking the brunt of the blow. Players on both teams immediately waved for the Predators medical staff to come attend to Nichol, and after several minutes on the ice he was stabilized on a board and carried off on a stretcher.

Daley was assessed a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct for injuring Nichol on the play. Nashville never got the power play on track, however, during the extended manpower advantage. Shortly after the power play expired, Erat worked hard to generate two shots on Turco, the second of which resulted in a rebound that Johnson hammered at repeatedly on Turco's doorstep. That series was followed by a give-and-go between Hartnell and Johnson that ended with Hartnell missing the net on a sharp angle shot and the puck winding around to Bill Guerin in the neutral zone with open ice in front of him. Defenseman Dan Hamhuis made a nice play to force Guerin to the right corner, but Hamhuis fell as Guerin turned away. That provided Guerin with enough time to deliver a backhand pass through the top of the crease to Brendan Morrow for a tap-in goal that increased the Stars' lead to 2-0 at 11:27.

The Predators took the play to Dallas in the third, and were able to cut the lead in half at the 7:15 mark. Stars forward Jon Klemm's attempted chip out of his zone was knocked down along the left boards and gathered by Perreault at the left point. He centered a pass to Erat, who headed to the net in a cluster with Kariya and two Dallas defenders. The puck pinballed among skates and sticks before Erat reclaimed it and got free for a wrister between the hashmarks. He beat Turco between the legs for his 13th goal of the season.

The Predators looked as if they might tie the game on several occasions. The first came around the 13:00 mark, when Erat tried to set up Johnson for what would have been an empty-net tap in had Turco not short-circuited the pass brilliantly with his outstretched goal stick. Later, with just under a minute remaining in regulation, Stars defenseman Sergei Zubov failed to hold the puck in at the right point and he and speedy Nashville forward Steve Sullivan raced in the neutral zone for the loose puck. Sullivan won, but as he crossed the opposing blue line and went to corral the puck, Zubov applied an obvious hook that earned him a trip to the penalty box.

That set up a final 53 seconds during which Nashville had a power play plus an extra attacker in place of Vokoun, who was pulled. Adam Hall delivered a huge win on the face-off in Dallas' zone, and the Predators quickly set up shop. Despite lots of puck movement around the perimeter of the four-man Dallas defense, the six skaters were unable to create many scoring opportunities and saw the final seconds slip away. With the 2-1 victory, the Stars extended their winning streak to six games overall and five straight at home.

The Predators will attempt to turn around their three-game skid in their home rink Thursday night when they host the Colorado Avalanche. Tickets are still available for the 7 p.m. game and start at only $10. To order, call (615) 770-PUCK, order online, or visit the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster outlet. A divisional showdown with the Columbus Blue Jackets follows Saturday night at the GEC before Nashville returns to Dallas for a Monday night rematch.

Notes: The Predators outshot Dallas by a margin of 24-23, aided by a third period in which they posted seven shots to the Stars' one...  Forward Mike Sillinger, acquired by Nashville on Sunday, made his Predators debut Wednesday night, winning battles in the corners and getting a couple of scoring chances during a third-period power play. He logged 18:49 of ice time, registered two hits, won nine of 17 face-offs and posted a -1 rating... Martin Erat's goal against Dallas gives him a two-game point streak and points in six of his last seven games... Paul Kariya pocketed his team-leading 33rd assist Wednesday, and now has three helpers in his last two games... Yanic Perreault registered his 19th assist of the season on Erat's goal and has a point in each of his last two games... Steve Sullivan logged a season-high 22:49 of ice time Wednesday, topping his previous high of 22:38, which was set last Saturday in Columbus... Scott Hartnell posted six of the Predators' 24 shots, including five in the second period... Nashville falls to 19-10 in one-goal games, and 17-8-2 when the opposing team scores first... The Predators now have a 7-4-2 record against Pacific Division teams... Wednesday night was the first time in 10 games that the Predators did not register a goal on either the power play or the penalty kill... Marek Zidlicky, Vernon Fiddler and Jeremy Stevenson were Nashville's scratches Wednesday... Attendance at American Airlines Center was 17,004.

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