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Preds head into break on a winning note

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Tomas Vokoun
Photo by Frederick Breedon
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 23 of 25 shots, focuses on Sergei Fedorov as he skates behind the Predators defense midway through the third period.
A three-point game from defenseman Marek Zidlicky paced the Nashville Predators to a 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Zidlicky sandwiched a pair of first-period power play goals around two Blue Jackets tallies scored in the span of 49 seconds. Scottie Upshall scored on a rebound 2:25 before the first intermission to put the Predators ahead for good and send the team into the Olympic break on a winning note.

Kimmo Timonen and Martin Erat each posted a goal and an assist and Paul Kariya added two helpers in the victory, which improved Nashville's record to 34-18-6 overall and 22-6-1 at home. Now, five members of the Predators squad--goaltender Tomas Vokoun, defensemen Zidlicky, Timonen and Danny Markov, and forward Erat--will travel to Torino, Italy to participate in the Winter Olympic men's ice hockey tournament during a two-and-a-half week break in the NHL schedule. For the rest of the team, they won't play until the Preds resume their regular season schedule on March 1 in Chicago for a showdown with the Blackhawks.

"When you have such a long time in between games to think about your last one, it helps going off on a good note," said Nashville forward Steve Sullivan, who notched an assist in the game. "It's going to be a little easier going home knowing we won our last game. We can go and relax and enjoy it a little bit more."

The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Predators, who are now 5-1-1 against the Blue Jackets this season. Nashville moves from the fourth-highest point total in the Western Conference to third, seven points behind the Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings.

The Predators, who had been outshot handily in each of their last five games, reversed that trend against Columbus. It started with an 18-to-seven advantage in the first period. A number of Nashville's shots came on the power play, as the Blue Jackets committed four penalties in the opening 20 minutes. Jan Hrdina's hooking violation at 1:06 set up Nashville's first score--a blast by Zidlicky from the right point as Predators forward Mike Sillinger screened goaltender Marc Denis. The goal made it 1-0 at 2:19.

Just over a minute later, the potent line of Sergei Fedorov, Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev tied the game on a goal by Nash. Then Zherdev lit the lamp again within a minute to suddenly put a superior looking Predators club down 2-1 4:29 into the contest.

"I don't think we were worried about it," Timonen said of his team's reaction. "We knew we would have to come out hard."

"[A team is] going to get those breaks," Sullivan said. "We were carrying the play, and we thought if we continued to do it we'd be fine and in the end the result would be what we wanted."

Standing in the way, though, was Denis, who turned in the first of several highlight-reel saves when his catching glove came out of nowhere to rob Kariya on a power-play chance from the right edge of the crease. Kariya was foiled again seconds later when the puck bounced over his stick as he attempted to one-time a rebound from the right circle. The Predators had their own luck as well, when Federov fired wide of the net on a two-on-one short-handed chance near the 6:30 mark.

Zidlicky was able to knot the game at 2-2 with 12:22 gone in the first. His straight-on shot from just inside the blue line gave the Predators their second power-play goal of the night on just their third opportunity with the man advantage.

"I think we played very well on the power play and we got very good shots," Zidlicky said. "I try [to get shots through] every game and I don't [always] score, but today it was my day."

Scottie Upshall
Photo by David Pelham
Yanic Perreault joins Scottie Upshall to celebrate Upshall's first-period goal--the eventual game-winner.
Nashville took hold of the game late in the period on a play that rewarded the hustle of Kariya and Upshall. Kariya bolted through the neutral zone to catch up to a loose puck, then cleverly used his stick to force his way around a defender before unleashing a hard shot. Denis made the pad save but coughed up a rebound to his left, where a charging Upshall put the puck into an essentially empty net.

"We consciously tried to throw the puck at the net, and I thought we did some great jobs on screens," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "Every goal we scored, there was a puck to the net with traffic. We shot it on the power play and we scored some goals. The one where Kariya went to the net real hard, [Upshall] followed up and we scored there. Just getting to the net hard and putting pucks in that area was a real key for us tonight."

A quiet second period heated up with about six minutes remaining. Vokoun made a blocker save on a sharp shot by Manny Malhotra, then followed that up seconds later with a stop on Ron Hainsey's bid to power a low shot through the five-hole. The Predators took a two-goal lead at 16:52, seconds after a two-minute interference penalty to Jackets captain Adam Foote expired. Nashville's power play unit was set up in the offensive zone when Foote emerged from the box and skated to rejoin play. Erat, who held the puck along the right boards, looked as if he was forced into a decision by Foote's arrival into the zone. He suddenly stepped off the wall and took a couple strides into the right face-off circle before releasing a crisp shot with teammate Adam Hall screening in front. His attempt found the back of the net and gave Nashville a 4-2 lead that they carried into the third.

Fifty-nine seconds after Erat's goal, Scott Hartnell nearly made it 5-2. Timonen fired a shot from the left point that was sailing high and wide right before Hartnell--stationed in front--reached the blade of his stick out to perfectly deflect the shot past Denis, just inside the right post. The goal was immediately waved off by one of the referees, however, because Hartnell's stick was higher than the regulatory four feet when it played the puck. The on-ice assessment was confirmed by a video review, and the goal was disallowed.

Nashville would get their fifth goal, but not before Vokoun was called on to make some tough saves in the first half of the third period. Five minutes into the final stanza, the game briefly opened up into an end-to-end horse race. Zherdev, one of Columbus' promising young thoroughbreds, came looking for his second goal of the night and Vokoun rebuffed him. Less than half a minute later, Zherdev returned with a much better chance, but Vokoun got his right leg pad extended to perfectly thwart the youngster's deke to his backhand. Fedorov created a mini-breakaway two minutes later when he blew around defenseman Mark Eaton, but again the Nashville goaltender was equal to the task.

Timonen pocketed the Predators' final goal of the game--and third from a defenseman--at the 13:27 mark. Unlike Zidlicky's blue line blasts, Timonen's opportunity came down low, as he cut in from the right face-off circle and put a nice shot high to the far side past Denis. After the game, Nashville's top scoring defenseman assessed the importance of the victory.

"It was huge," Timonen said. "We lost three games in a row. It seems to be teams underneath are catching us every time we lose. So it was a huge game for us."

"I just think we came out and played a real smart game," Trotz said. "We had good energy. I thought our Olympians stepped up. You talk about your key guys stepping up--we got four goals out of the guys going to the Olympics. And we had a couple key saves in the third from Tomas, off of Zherdev sort of cherry-picking out there at the blue line. I thought we played a pretty solid game."

Allison on waivers: Head coach Barry Trotz announced at his postgame press conference that defenseman Jamie Allison has been placed on waivers. He will clear Monday if no other NHL team claims him. Trotz also noted that forward Scottie Upshall and defensemen Shea Weber have been reassigned to the Milwaukee Admirals for the Olympic break. "It's important for young guys just to be playing," he said.

Notes: Nashville's 34 wins tie the second most in franchise history (2000-01). The franchise record is 38, set in 2003-04. The club's previous best record after 58 games was 27-22-7-2, again in 2003-04... With their 22nd home win, the Predators tie the franchise record for most home wins (22-10-7-2 in 2003-04)... With a pair of goals and an assist, Marek Zidlicky posted his third two-goal game and fifth three-point game of the season Saturday... Paul Kariya notched two assists against the Blue Jackets to give him back-to-back two-point games. Saturday was his 18th multi-point game of the season, extending the franchise record he set earlier in the week. He now has 58 points (19g-39a) in 58 games and remains Nashville's leader in points, assists and shots on goal (173). He registered six more shots Saturday... Scottie Upshall scored his fifth goal of the season, and his last two (Saturday and Dec. 27 at Calgary) have been game-winners... Yanic Perreault assisted on Upshall's goal and now has 12 points (2g-10a) in his last eight games and three assists in his last two. He logged a season-high 20:13 of ice time and finished with a +1 rating... Tomas Vokoun recorded his 28th win, which ties him for second among NHL goalies in that category. He also posted his second assist of the season on Zidlicky's first goal... The Predators went two-for-six on the power play, and have 69 power-play goals this season. The club record is 72, set in 2003-04. Three players now have 10 or more power-play goals for the season (Sullivan - 11, Hartnell - 10, Zidlicky - 10)... Nashville is now 21-0-3 when leading after two periods and 14-7-0 when outshooting their opponent... The Predators are 16-4-1 within their division... Defenseman Mark Eaton added another five blocked shots to his team-leading total of 142 and is ranked third in the league... The Predators wore their white "away" jerseys at home Saturday night to allow Columbus to don their third jerseys... Ryan Suter and Jamie Allison were scratches for Nashville.

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