Regardless of the final score, the Nashville Predators and the Atlanta Thrashers had agreed to participate in a shootout following the conclusion of their Friday night preseason game at Philips Arena. As it turned out, the tie-breaking event was necessary once the teams played to a 3-3 draw through three periods and an overtime session.
Vyacheslav Kozlov and Jon Sim each scored in the shootout for Atlanta while Paul Kariya was the only Predator able to convert in the showdown, which went four rounds. The 2-1 shootout win gave Atlanta a 4-3 victory in the game.
Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis looked very solid in his preseason debut, logging by far the most ice time of any player with 27:40. He sandwiched two goals around a Paul Kariya tally as Nashville overcame a 2-0 second-period deficit to take a 3-2 lead late in the third. But a power-play goal by Sim at 19:57 of regulation tied the game at 3-3 and forced overtime.
"We should have been out of here with a 3-2 victory, but that's how it goes," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said.
Lightning nearly struck twice for Atlanta, as Andy Sutton and Jim Slater combined on a bang-bang play at the overtime buzzer to put the puck past Predators goaltender Chris Mason. Following a video review, the goal was disallowed.
Mason was tested a few times in the first period as the Thrashers outshot the Preds 7-2. The home side's shot advantage was aided by 3:48 of extra power-play time in the opening frame. Mason's strongest stop came around the 12:00 mark as he turned away a three-on-one break that culminated in a redirect by Niko Kapanen at the left post. Mason also came up with a big save three minutes later against Slater, who pounced on a routine dump-in that struck an imperfection in the boards and angled straight into the slot.
Sparks few briefly 10:41 into the contest when a frustrated Scott Hartnell slashed Vitaly Vishnevski near the team benches. Glen Metropolit stepped in for his Thrashers teammate in a dust-up that never developed into anything serious. Hartnell was sent off for slashing and roughing, while Metropolit sat only for the latter. Nashville's penalty killers, who went four for five Friday, answered the call to preserve the scoreless tie.
With 16 minutes gone and the Predators enjoying their first power play of the night, there was a brief scare when Andy Sutton's clearing-attempt follow-through clipped Kariya in the face. Kariya skated to the bench dabbing his hand to his face but there was no call on the play and he was back on the ice for his next shift.
The Predators caught up in power-play time and shots on goal in the second, but it was the Thrashers who first put distance between themselves and Nashville on the scoreboard. Seconds after Mason made a nice stop on a sharp angle shot from the right side by Sim, Scott Mellanby connected from the same general area off a feed from Kapanen. Atlanta went up 2-0 six-and-a-half minutes later, when Steve McCarthy capitalized on a setup by Mellanby.
Defenseman Dan Hamhuis gave the Predators life just before the second intermission when he walked in and scored on goalie Kari Lehtonen. Hamhuis pinched along the left boards and received the puck from Vern Fiddler with a clear path to the net. Hamhuis skated parallel to the goal line and hoisted a backhander past Lehtonen at 19:41 to make it 2-1.
"Something we talk about is activating the defense off the blue line," Hamhuis said. "I saw [Fiddler] coming up toward me and it was a perfect opportunity to change the flow. When I grabbed the puck it was kind of like the Red Sea parted there and I found the lane to the net."
Hamhuis' spark didn't exactly carry over to the third period, though, as the action was pretty subdued until Jerred Smithson's line turned in a good shift with about nine minutes gone. "The Smithson-[Jordin] Tootoo-[Darcy] Hordichuk line gave us that jolt when we needed it," Trotz said.
Scott Nichol and Scottie Upshall continued the strong offensive zone play on the following shift. The momentum carried over to the makeshift line of Josef Vasicek, Kariya and Alexander Radulov, which combined for a goal at 11:04. The sequence started with Radulov making a couple of great plays to maintain possession inside the Atlanta zone and ended with his pass from behind the net that Kariya quickly fired through a gap in goaltender Fred Brathwaite, who entered the game at the start of the third. "It was a terrific pass," Kariya said of Radulov's centering feed. "I was just hoping he saw me, and he did. When you make plays like that, that's seeing the game at a very high level."
With less than two minutes remaining, Kariya set the table for Hamhuis' second goal. "P.K. made a nice play--kind of sucked a couple guys to him by dropping the puck," said Hamhuis, who took aim from the left face-off circle. "It wasn't a great shot, but just putting the puck on net it bounced off a couple shin pads and went in."
Shortly thereafter, Sim's late-game heroics nullified Hamhuis' potential game-winner with just over two seconds remaining, and Slater was a split second too late with his goal at the end of overtime.
"Both were quick plays, good plays by them," Hamhuis said. "Simply putting the puck on the net and having two, three guys going to the net. It's tough to defend that as a defenseman. You're not sure whose stick to take and there's two of them. They were fortunate and got the pucks onto the sticks and made some timely goals."
The two teams meet again Saturday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The game faces off at 7:00 p.m. and will be broadcast locally on WNSR 560-AM. Tickets are still available by purchasing online or calling 615-770-PUCK, visiting any Ticketmaster outlet or stopping by the GEC box office.