The Nashville Predators closed out their regular season schedule with a solid 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night at Pepsi Center. J.P. Dumont scored a pair of goals and Peter Forsberg posted two assists as the Predators twice overcame one-goal deficits to rally with a three-goal third period. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun grew stronger as the game progressed, stopping all 15 third-period shots he faced to seal his 27th victory of the season.
The Predators finished the game with just 10 forwards; Jerred Smithson (leg) and Vern Fiddler (arm) left the match in the first and second period, respectively, with injuries. Neither returned. The team now has a few days to recuperate, practice, and prepare for Game 1 of their opening round playoff series with the San Jose Sharks. San Jose's overtime loss Saturday afternoon insured home ice for Nashville and locked the two clubs into a repeat of last year's Western Conference Quarternfinal series. Dates and times for games 1 and 2, both of which will be played at Nashville Arena and are sold out, will be announced at a later time.
The Predators wrapped up their 2006-07 regular season campaign with a franchise-best 51-23-8 record. Saturday's win over the Avalanche was Nashville's second in a row and squashed Colorado's hopes of claiming the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Colorado had posted a blistering 14-1-2 record in the 17 games prior to Saturday's tilt against the Predators.
The Avalanche opened the scoring with a four-on-four tally 5:25 into the game. Team scoring leader Joe Sakic took an outlet pass and carried it into the right side of the offensive zone before centering to onetime Predators defenseman Karlis Skrastins. Skrastins carried the puck past the left side of the Nashville goal, luring netminder Tomas Vokoun out of the crease. The defenseman then tossed the puck back to the front of the net where winger Milan Hejduk was able to get his stick on it and drive it home past diving Nashville defenseman Shea Weber.
Nashville tied the game at 1-1 at 12:45 on Dumont's first goal of the night. The play began with an outlet pass from Forsberg, who sent the puck ahead to a charging Fiddler. Fiddler maintained possession along the left wall and squeezed past a check by Avs blueliner Kurt Sauer before cutting behind the Colorado net. As he emerged at the right side of the goal cage, he centered to Dumont who was storming down the crease. Dumont finished off the bang-bang play to become Nashville's sixth 20-goal scorer this season.
Andrew Brunette made it 2-1 for the Avalanche 4:09 into the second period when he capped off a wraparound with a low shot that found its way through Vokoun's legs. The lead held through the rest of the middle frame and into the second intermission.
Vokoun was the difference at the beginning of the third period. With teammate Paul Kariya in the penalty box for hooking, Vokoun made a string of nice saves during Colorado's fifth power play of the game. He was especially sharp on a Sakic rebound chance around the 2:45 mark and he authored back-to-back stops on point-blank chances by Ian Laperriere after a defensive breakdown as the penalty expired.
The superb goaltending kept the deficit at a manageable one goal, allowing Nashville to tie it with the next goal at 8:38 of the third. Weber retrieved an Avalanche clear in his own zone and sent the puck to his defensive partner on the left wall. The puck was then sent to Jordin Tootoo at the right edge of the center red line. Tootoo quickly delivered a lead pass to Legwand at the center of the far blue line, and Legwand used his speed to split both defensemen. When the time came for his backhand chance, Legwand whiffed slightly but got enough of the puck to send it through the legs of Colorado's goaltender, Peter Budaj.
Two minutes later, Dumont nearly increase the lead when he tipped Greg Zanon's point shot and forced Budaj to make a big stop. The play was still key, as it produced an offensive zone face-off that Nashville turned into its third goal of the night. Forsberg and Scott Hartnell were strong on the boards in the right corner of the Avs' zone, ultimately allowing Hartnell to pass the puck from the end boards to Forsberg just a few feet away above the goal line. Forsberg lasered a pass to Kariya at the left edge of the slot for a shot that Budaj had no chance of stopping. The goal, Kariya's 24th of the season, made it 3-2 at 10:58 of the third.
With their playoff hopes in the balance, Colorado threw the kitchen sink at Nashville over the game's final minutes. That included pulling Budaj for an extra attacker with about a minute left in regulation. The Avalanche generated some threatening pressure in the Predators' end, but a gutsy diving hand pass by Scott Nichol in the slot cleared the puck from harm's way and sent Dumont off on a foot race toward the empty net. Dumont had a step on defenseman John-Michael Liles and used one arm to control his stick and the other to fend off Liles' hooks and pokes as the two tangled from the right face-off circle in Nashville's end all the way to the top of the Colorado crease. Liles was whistled for a delayed penalty for one of the hooking motions, but Dumont rendered the penalty moot by maintaining possession of the puck with one hand and shepherding it all the way into the open net to give the visitors a decisive 4-2 lead at 19:36.
NOTES: The Predators won their fourth game of the season when trailing after two periods (4-15-1)... Nashville recorded its 23rd road win Saturday--a club record (23-15-3)... With J.P. Dumont becoming the sixth Predator to reach the 20-goal plateau this season, a new team record was established, surpassing last year when five players had 20 or more goals. This season was Dumont's third straight 20-goal season and his fifth in the last six years... Nashville is 20-1-0 when Paul Kariya scores... David Legwand's goal tied him with Jason Arnott for the team goal-scoring lead at 27, a career high for Legwand. The center also established a new club record for +/- in a season (+23), surpassing Mark Eaton's previous franchise mark of +16....For the season, the Predators allowed a league-low two shorthanded goals... Nashville finished the season 38-10-4 when scoring first and 13-13-4 when allowing the first goal... The Preds ended the season with a 12-5-3 record vs. the Northwest Division and posted a winning record against each of the other five divisions... Martin Erat, Steve Sullivan and Vitaly Vishnevski were scratched for Nashville.