The Nashville Predators snapped their five-game winless streak in dramatic fashion Tuesday night, getting a goal from Scott Hartnell with 23 seconds remaining in regulation to secure a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Hartnell's go-ahead tally was the third goal scored in the final 1:55 of the third period, and capped a seesaw finish in which Edmonton nearly pushed Nashville to a third straight overtime game.
"When they scored in that last minute it was like, 'Oh, here we go again in overtime,' " Hartnell said. "You never know what's going to happen there. We were able to fight back in the last 40 seconds there and be able to get a goal and get the two points to end this funk."
With the win, Nashville's record stands at 9-2-3 overall and 6-1 at home. The Predators exhibited a level of grit and determination in the victory that had been seen rarely if ever this season. With key players missing from the lineup due to injury, the team returned to the tireless work ethic for which it had become famous in past years.
"There weren't any passengers tonight, that's for sure," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "Anybody who dressed tonight was involved in that game."
A goal by Kimmo Timonen with just under two minutes remaining in the contest put Nashville ahead 2-1. It was a goal generated by Yanic Perreault and Jerred Smithson as they battled in a cluster of players at the front of the Oilers' net.
"There were like three guys trying to find the puck," Perreault said, recounting the play. "I was able to get a couple of whacks at it, and the puck went kind of wide and hit [Smithson's] skate and then Kimmo came down and took a pretty good shot. It hit the post and went in. It was a big goal, but they came back right away."
Edmonton's answer came less than a minute later from the stick of Ryan Smyth. Oilers goaltender Jussi Markkanen had been pulled for an extra attacker.
"It was crazy," Hartnell said. "We got one and they got one right back. It was kind of a sinking feeling, but we went out there on the last shift and just said, 'We're going to go do it.' "
The game-deciding play began with Hartnell on the puck in the right corner of the Predators' offensive zone. He used the boards to chip the disc around an Oilers defenseman and deeper to teammate Greg Johnson. Hartnell moved to front of the net and Johnson made a play to get the puck to him.
"Greg Johnson, who's done a real good job in the last little while doing a lot of penalty killing for us, pops a puck out to Hartnell and Hartnell makes a real unbelievable play," Trotz said. "He knocks the puck down to the ice and basically hits it into the net in the blink of an eye. [Edmonton goaltender Jussi] Markkanen didn't even see it. What a great way to finish it up."
The thrilling conclusion was in contrast to the Predators' somewhat slow start to the game. The Oilers outshot Nashville 14-8 in the scoreless first period, with the home team's best chance coming when Paul Kariya forced a turnover in the neutral zone, slid the puck around defenseman Danny Syrvet and skated in alone on a breakaway. His low shot was stopped by Markkanen.
Darcy Hordichuk crystallized the underdog spirit that the Predators displayed in the game when he dropped his gloves to take on the much bigger Georges Laraque midway through the first 20-minute session. Laraque, 6-3 and 243 pounds, landed a few punches while the 6-1, 215-pound Hordichuk gained his balance, but Hordichuk ended the fight by powering Laraque down to the ice beneath him.
The Predators' determination really emerged in the second period, as the team was clearly working hard against the large and speedy Oilers. Despite Nashville's efforts, Edmonton scored the period's only goal while on the power play. Shawn Horcoff fed a cross-ice pass to Jarret Stoll for a one-timer that beat Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun and made the game 1-0 at the 9:22 mark.
Nashville's recent habit of taking undisciplined penalties continued against Edmonton. With 32 seconds remaining before the second intermission, forward Martin Erat was slapped with a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct while arguing a holding-the-stick call against him. That eventually put Edmonton on their fifth power play of the night early in the third period.
"I was not happy with him taking the penalty that he did...," Trotz said. "He was going to have a long sit-down at that point, and we got the puck right when he stepped out of the box. He decided to join the rush, and lo and behold he scores a goal and redeems himself."
Erat's goal, which came after he curled with the puck in the right face-off circle and whipped it high to the left side past a screened Markkanen, tied the game at 1-1 3:44 into the third.
"I think in the third period we played pretty hard," Timonen said. "That period was our period. That was a sign of coming back to 'keep working hard, keep working hard,' and we got the win. We really needed it."
The Predators were bolstered by the play of Vokoun, who made a number of key saves to keep the Predators firmly in the game. On the night, he stopped 31 of 33 Oilers shots, while Markkanen stopped 24 of 27 Nashville chances.
The Predators return to action Thursday night when they host the Dallas Stars at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Tickets are still available for the game, which starts at 7 p.m. To order, call (615) 770-PUCK, purchase online, or visit any Ticketmaster outlet. The game will also be televised on FSN South and broadcast on 104.5 FM The Zone. Fans can enjoy $1 hot dogs during the game as part of the Predators' Tuesday night (free popcorn) and Thursday night concessions specials through the end of November.
Notes: Jerred Smithson, called up from Nashville's minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee on Monday, registered his first NHL point Tuesday with his assist on Kimmo Timonen's goal. He also finished with 3 hits, a 70 percent face-off win ratio and a +3 rating... Martin Erat's goal gives him five in his last seven games... Timonen earned an assist on Erat's goal and posted his second multi-point game (1 goal, 1 assist) of the season. His first was Oct. 13 in Phoenix, where he collected a goal and two assists... Forwards Scott Nichol, Steve Sullivan, Adam Hall and Scott Walker all missed Tuesday's game with injuries... Paul Kariya led the Predators in ice time with 24:32. It's the most ice time he has logged in a game this season... Nashville's penalty killers allowed one goal on Edmonton's seven power-play chances, while the Oilers shut out the Predators on their four opportunities with a man advantage... The Predators are now 5-0-1 when their opponent scores first... After Nashville's defensemen struggled in the opening period, the coaching staff rearranged the three defensive pairings. Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis were split up, and matched with Marek Zidlicky and Kimmo Timonen, respectively. "We were trying to get a few guys going and trying to get a little bit more from our defense," Trotz explained. "We've been critical of a couple of our defensemen--we think that they can play a little bit better--and I thought they stepped up tonight. We changed things around to see if that would get us going in the right direction a little bit. I thought all six played relatively quite well. We still made some mistakes, turning the puck over and maybe not using each other as well as we should, but as we go along that will come around."... Tuesday night's attendance was 11,748.