Photo by John Russell
Mike Sillinger butts heads with goaltender Chris Mason and congratulates him on his fifth consecutive win. Mason was also credited with the first-ever goal by a Predators goaltender.
Chris Mason stopped 23 of 24 shots and was credited with the first-ever goal by a Nashville Predators goaltender as the Predators defeated the visiting Phoenix Coyotes by a 5-1 score Saturday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Mason, who was the last Nashville player to touch the puck before Phoenix inadvertently passed it into their vacated net on a delayed penalty call, won his fifth straight game and became only the ninth NHL goaltender to be credited with a goal.
Martin Erat and Scott Hartnell each scored in the first 48 seconds of the second period to put the Predators up 2-0, then Yanic Perreault added a goal midway through the period to pad the margin. Phoenix cut the lead to 3-1 midway through the third, but Scottie Upshall responded emphatically with a goal for Nashville 15 seconds later to keep a potential Coyotes comeback in check. Phoenix's own-goal came 45 seconds later and was originally credited to Predators forward Vern Fiddler, but was given to Mason after video footage was reviewed by officials. Consider it an early birthday gift for the likable 'Mase,' who turns 30 on April 20.
Since stepping into the No. 1 goaltending role for the Predators last week, Mason has posted a record of 5-1, a save percentage of .943, and a goals-against average of 1.44. He'd be hard-pressed to have a better all-around day than Saturday. In exchange for free tickets, a number of fans had their heads shaved on the GEC plaza prior to the game to assume a likeness of the smooth-topped goalie. During the Coach's Corner segment of CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" broadcast, colorful hockey analyst Don Cherry sang the praises of the Red Deer, Alberta native. And after the game, Phoenix head coach Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky compared Mason's performance to that of Hall of Famer--and now the Coyotes' goaltending coach--Grant Fuhr.
"I guess you could call that the 'Grant Fuhr Hat Trick'--stop a breakaway, win a game, and score a goal," Gretzky said. "[Mason's] under the microscope now. He's stepped in, and he's done a nice job for them. It's always good to see a guy step in and get a chance and take advantage of it."
Remarkably, the goal wasn't the first of Mason's professional career. "Actually I got almost exactly the same thing in Milwaukee almost four years ago," Mason said. "A puck went off my blocker and a guy came around net [and ultimately put it into his own goal]. It's a cheesy goal. I'd rather one of the other guys get credit for it, but whatever."
Nashville has won five in a row, improving to 48-25-8 on the season and 31-8-1 at the GEC. The Predators, who will close out the regular season at home Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings, are clicking at the right time. A victory by the San Jose Sharks Saturday afternoon locked that hot club into a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference, which means the Sharks will be the Predators' first-round opponent when the playoffs begin next Friday or Saturday.
"As a team, I think that we're starting to play better defensively," Mason said. "I think about 10, 12 games ago we were getting outplayed and giving up a lot of shots, a lot of chances. I think we realize it's going to be tough with San Jose [who] I guess we've got now. We're going to have to start bearing down."
After an opening 20 minutes in which the Predators outplayed the Coyotes and outshot them 10-4 despite yielding four power plays, the score remained 0-0. Erat capitalized on a carryover power play 25 seconds into the second period, cycling with Paul Kariya along the right wall before skating higher toward the right face-off dot and releasing a shot that rang in off the post behind screened Phoenix goalie David LeNeveu. On the next shift, Hartnell picked up a turnover in the Predators' zone, pushed it up the right side, then beat LeNeveu from the general vicinity of Erat's tally to put Nashville up 2-0 just 48 seconds into the middle period.
"It was a big start to the second period there," Hartnell said. "It just seemed to keep on rolling after that."
Perreault made it 3-0 9:14 into the period, seconds after he made a fluid, spinning play to receive a lengthy breakaway pass but was stopped by LeNeveu on two point-blank chances. Though he didn't convert there, Perreault did draw a delayed penalty and Mason scurried to the bench for an extra skater that gave Nashville a five-on-four manpower advantage. The Predators maintained possession as the puck exited to center ice, and the forwards regrouped in the neutral zone before Paul Kariya sent Perreault back in on left wing. He targeted a shot just inside the right post. "We were able to get the two-on-one by a nice pass from Paul, and I said I might as well shoot, right?" Perreault said. "If you don't shoot you don't score."
For Perreault, who was scratched from the Predators lineup Thursday and has been struggling to regain his form from earlier this season since returning from a recent knee injury, lighting the lamp was a welcome change. "I was getting a lot of assists but it's always nice to get a goal, for sure," Perreault said.
Mason closed out the period with a number of key saves, including a stop on Bill Thomas' breakaway attempt. Thomas deked to his right but Mason's left leg pad was there to foil the chance. Phoenix did manage to get on the board at 9:47 of the third, when Dennis Seidenberg's straight-on shot from inside the blue line dented the right side of the net behind Mason, who was screened on the play. That cut the lead to 3-1.
Fifteen seconds later, Upshall made a strong move off the right half-wall and fired a shot that trickled inside the left post after LeNeveu got a piece of it. Upshall's eighth of the season restored Nashville's three-goal lead.
"You saw the momentum change," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "[Phoenix] finally sort of broke the bubble there and got a goal. You think, here they come. All of the sudden, next shift Upshall scores. Bang. That takes a lot of momentum away."
Whatever momentum remained with the Coyotes left the building 45 seconds later. A delayed tripping call against Nashville's Jordin Tootoo prompted LeNeveu to leave the ice for an extra attacker. When Geoff Sanderson's attempted pass toward the point from deep in Nashville's zone hopped over a teammate's stick, it slid the length of the ice into Phoenix's net to extend the margin to 5-1.
"Hey, we'll take any goals," Trotz said. "You never know how a goal's going to happen in a game. Going into the playoffs, you've got to expect the unexpected."
Notes: The Predators have outscored their opponents by a combined total of 16 goals to four on their current five-game winning streak. The team has gone 6-2-0 in April and has collected 104 points for the season... Saturday's home win extended the recently broken franchise record to 31, which is tied with Carolina for the most home wins in the league this season... Paul Kariya posted two assists and now has 81 points (28g-53a) this season. It is the sixth time in his career that he has reached the 80-point plateau... Yanic Perreault registered a goal and an assist and now has 57 points (22g-35a), one better than his previous career high... Goaltender Chris Mason has allowed only four goals in his last five games... Scott Hartnell recorded his team-leading eighth game-winning goal, a franchise record... In addition to his goal, Scottie Upshall finished the game a +1 to extend his plus/minus rating to a team-high +13... Martin Erat scored his career-high 19th goal and is one away from becoming the fifth Predator to score 20 goals this season... Nashville held an opponent to less than 30 shots for the sixth straight game Saturday... The Predators are 29-1-4 when leading after two periods... Nashville killed eight of nine Phoenix power plays, and have gone 44 for 46 over the last seven games... Nashville's power play was one for seven. The Predators have scored at least one power-play goal in 13 of their last 16 games... The Predators went 9-8-3 against the Pacific Division, and will finish the season with a winning record against every division in the Western Conference (22-8-1 vs. Central, 13-6-1 vs. Northwest)... Tomas Vokoun, Marek Zidlicky, David Legwand, Scott Nichol, Jerred Smithson, Steve Sullivan and Kimmo Timonen were scratched from the Predators' lineup... Sunday's practice scheduled for Centennial Sportsplex was cancelled... Attendance at the GEC was 13,326.
Video: Watch the game highlights (1:32)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (8:08)
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