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Preds drop Columbus, claim NHL's top spot

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

David Legwand vs. Columbus
Photo by John Russell
David Legwand posted one goal and one assist while playing a very strong two-way game Thursday.

For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators are the No. 1 team in the National Hockey League. The Predators defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0 Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center to leapfrog the Anaheim Ducks in the standings. Forwards David Legwand, Steve Sullivan, Paul Kariya and Martin Erat scored for the Predators and goaltender Chris Mason has stopped all 33 shots he faced to record the shutout.

With the win, Nashville improves to 33-12-3. The Predators have defeated Columbus in each of the six meetings between the teams this season.

Legwand set the example for Nashville, playing a strong two-way game and finishing the night with a goal and an assist.

"He was really good at both ends," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said of the 6'2", 190-pound center. "He was skating well. He was competing. I mean he got us going with the first goal. The first goal was just [him getting] on the puck, he stayed and battled down low, and stuck it in the net. I thought he was really good at both ends of the ice today and it shows in his plus/minus [rating] for the year. He's scoring more. He's shooting more. I have a tremendous amount of trust in his game.... He's a real difference-maker out there for us."

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In the first period, Legwand's forechecking effort forced a misplay by a pair of Columbus players behind the Blue Jackets net, allowing Legwand to carry the puck to the right of the net and bank it in off Conklin at 4:07.

"[Conklin] was looking the other way, kind of," Legwand said. "I don't think he was ready for it to pop out that side. I just jammed it in there."

Coincidental roughing penalties to Nashville's Marek Zidlicky and Columbus' Rostislav Klesla at 12:43 of the first reduced the teams to four skaters per side. Thirty-six seconds later, the Predators capitalized to go up by two. Nashville defenseman Shea Weber's dump from the right point went wide of the net and was retrieved by teammate Jason Arnott behind the Columbus goal. Arnott shoveled the puck out front to Sullivan, who made no mistake on a point blank shot against Conklin.

Strong work by Mason and the Nashville penalty killers shortly thereafter preserved the two-goal cushion, as the Predators had to kill off 49 seconds of a 4-on-3 disadvantage. Mason's best saves of the period came within a minute of each other, as he turned aside a redirection by Anson Carter at 14:30 and made a stretching leg pad save on Rick Nash at 15:30.

"The first period they had a lot [of shots] and a lot of tips and rebounds and things like that," Mason said. "But I thought as the game went on we did a better job of kind of keeping them outside. A lot of times after the play they'd be right there hacking and whacking and things like that."

For the game, the Blue Jackets outshot Nashville 33-26. "[Columbus does] a pretty good job of shooting the puck," Predators captain Kimmo Timonen said. "Every time it gets to the d-man or point they shoot the puck and guys get in front. They've got some big guys and they do a pretty good job. We took some penalties again and most of their shots came from the power play."

While the Predators penalty killers were a perfect 5-for-5 against the Columbus, Nashville's own power-play struck for a crucial goal. The score was 2-0 when Zidlicky and Kariya connected for an extra-strength goal 10:11 into the second period. A holding penalty to Columbus forward Nikolai Zherdev put the Predators up one man for the third time in the game and Kariya capitalized exactly one minute into the power play. The Predators were set up in the Blue Jackets zone when Zidlicky zipped a pass from the top of the left circle to Kariya in the bottom of the right circle. Kariya whizzed a high, short-side shot by Columbus goaltender Ty Conklin to make it 3-0 at 10:11.

"It's huge when you get a goalie going side to side like that," Kariya said. "When you've got the skill level of some of our defensemen and players out there, it makes it a lot easier for the forwards."

Highlights of Predators vs. Blue Jackets, Jan. 18, 2007 (:40)

Nashville increased its lead to 4-0 midway through the final period. Erat made a nice play to keep the puck in the offensive zone then ultimately finished off the sequence with a sniper shot from the right face-off dot. As the trio of Legwand, Kariya and Erat cycled the puck, Erat carried it from the right corner into the right circle and uncorked a bullet that beat Conklin high to the short side at 9:56.

Mason was again extremely sharp early in the third, making a superb save on an initial shot and rebound by Jody Shelley on the doorstep. Thirty seconds later Mason made a Statue of Liberty-like grab of an aerial deflection of a Rick Nash shot.

One more game remains on the Predators' schedule before the All-Star break. Nashville will host Chicago on Saturday night with the hopes of retaining the top spot in the NHL. Game time is 7:00 p.m. CT and tickets are still available. To order, purchase online, call 615-770-PUCK or visit any Ticketmaster outlet.

NOTES: Chris Mason set a Predators individual record with his fifth shutout of the season. Nashville has blanked the opposition eight times this season. It was Mason's eighth career shutout... David Legwand, who collected a goal and an assist, scored his 15th goal of the season. It was also the 94th of his career, which gives him sole possession of second on the Predators' all-time goal-scoring list. He is four points behind the leader, Scott Walker... Paul Kariya notched a goal and an assist for a total of 25 points (10g-15a) in the last 19 games. The Predators are 15-0-0 when he scores a goal... Steve Sullivan scored a goal and now has 9 points (4g-5a) in the last 8 games... Jason Arnott's assist on Sullivan's goal gives him a total of 13 points (9g-4a) over his last 14 games... Captain Kimmo Timonen assisted on Kariya's power-play goal and now has 14 points (2g-12a) in the last 16 games. He leads the team in power-play points with 16 (6g-10a)... Nashville is now 11-1-1 in the second game of back-to-backs... Vern Fiddler has an assist in three straight games... The Predators penalty killers were 5-for-5 Thursday and are now 36-for-40 over the last 10 games... Nashville has won five straight at home and is 17-3-3 at the GEC this season... The Predators are 6-0-0 against Columbus this season and have outscored the Blue Jackets 22-8 over those six games... Nashville has scored in the first period for 11 straight games (20 goals) and has outscored its opponents 60-36 in first periods this season... The Predators have scored 21 even-strength goals in the last six games... Nashville is 24-5-1 when scoring first, 22-1-3 when leading after two periods and 14-4-1 against Central Division opponents... Jerred Smithson and Alexander Radulov were scratched for Nashville.

Post-Game Comments

On the topic of goaltender Chris Mason getting the start
I had told [Mason and Tomas Vokoun] earlier in the week that they were to split.

I think both our goaltenders are really elite athletes. They condition. They push each other. I think they just make each other better.

On the topic of getting over last night's loss
I thought that it was very important in the sense that you have a pretty emotional game in Detroit and you have a lot of disappointments. How you respond the next day, and against a good team and they were focused on this game to getting their guys back. I think good teams respond really well. I thought we showed what I call character toughness. We showed that we had to respond against a team that was gonna come out hard as you saw against us. They were gonna play physical, you were gonna have to work at this game, and our guys did. We got good goaltending, penalty killing was really good, we got some timely goals and got the job done. And I think as the game went on we got stronger.

On the topic of the Blue Jackets getting their guys back
Up front they're really strong, you look at the talent that they have up front, it really is a strong group of forwards that they have. We knew it was gonna be tough for us tonight, we had to respond, and we did.

On the topic of winning before the break
Obviously you wanna finish strong. I think anytime you win before any kind of break, you wanna have those days feeling good.

On setting a franchise record with five shutouts in a season
I guess that's pretty cool, but it's definitely one that's going to be broken. I guess it's cool to get it and I honestly just wanted to win. That's really all that mattered.

On him being the one to perhaps break his own record
It's cool, but it's definitely secondary. We passed Anaheim tonight. I don't know what happened in their game or if they played, but it was a big win.

On his success this season
I was just thinking, when Tomas came back, not playing, it was tough. You want to play those games. I thought at the beginning of the year, I couldn't have imagined playing this many games and helping the team. I would have never expected this and it to be at this point, I'm just extremely grateful and happy about how everything has turned out.

On the game
I think what we've prided ourselves on all year is not losing back-to-back games. Good teams, they lose a game and put three or four wins together and we've been doing that all year. We just have to really bare down on Saturday. Win that game and we'll have a couple days off, then we are right back at it again.

On his penalty late in the third period
They had a good scoring chance and it was four to nothing, when the puck came, I was on the wrong side of him. I'd take that hooking penalty, rather than a goal. Especially with (Mason) the way he's been playing all year. So, I wanted to give him the shutout. Our penalty-kill has been doing a real good job this year and I knew they'd kill that one for me.

On getting a solid win against Columbus
They were hungry for us. They got a good meal in them yesterday, they slept in a good eight or nine hours and we got in late last night. They want to beat us. With them and St. Louis, we want to just keep on driving it home that we want the two points against a division rival and we want to win those games.

On bouncing back from last night's loss
I think our team responds after a tough loss and we did that. It's not easy to play back-to-back games and to play against a team that hasn't beat us all year. I'm sure they were pretty hungry, but I think we showed pretty good patience today and (Mason) played a pretty good game again and we got two points.

On playing well back-to-back
Probably, because you don't have to come to the rink early in the morning. (Laughs) I like back-to-back games. You're ready to go right away, because you're still... you've been thinking about the game all night and you want to forget that game. It's easy to go when you play right away.

How he felt returning to the line up tonight
I feel like my same old self.  I felt better than I expected.

On the team being shut out 11 times this year
We're not bearing down on our opportunities.  We got tons of chances and lots of shots but just not out working them.

What is it that Nashville does that makes them hard to beat?
It's plain and simple.  They stick to their game plan and we kinda wander off.

On the lack of goal scoring
First thing we gotta start doing is getting more pucks to the net.  We can't afford to make pretty plays.  Whether the forwards take the puck wide or shoot pucks on net from bad angles, us getting into the might get a few ugly ones and that usually translates into other plays being made at the net.

The games they've beaten us they've been first in special teams.  They're a team that likes to jump out early and score that first goal I think they heat up with momentum.

Why it's been so hard to score against Nashville?
When you play Nashville right now, we outplayed them in the first 25 or 30 minutes. They capitalized on their chances, and that's what good teams do.  You are not going to have the same energy every night you're not going to have top energy.

They capitalized on their chances and we didn't. Their top players ended up scoring the goals for them. And that gave them the victory.

I don't think you mix it up, I think its just accepting responsibility.  When you play against a team like Nashville your best players have to be your best players.  That sets the tone.  There is no other X's and O's.  They have to accept that responsibility.


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