It looked like the Nashville Predators might get an easy victory Thursday night after building a 4-0 lead midway through the contest, but a third-period rally by the visiting Los Angeles Kings forced the Predators to hold on in the frantic final minutes for a 4-3 victory before a Thanksgiving Day crowd of 16,810 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Forward Steve Sullivan scored a goal and an assist, defenseman Marek Zidlicky contributed three helpers and the Nashville penalty killers were a perfect five for five while defusing 13 minutes of L.A. power play time.
"They played desperate," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said of the Kings in the third period. "They pulled their goalie and they got a goal and it gave them some momentum. From that standpoint we almost let them back in but we didn't. We got the win."
After being outshot 17-9 in the second period, the Kings sparked their comeback bid with a goal by Derek Armstrong at 1:11 of the third. Three minutes later, Kings forward Sean Avery, who leads the NHL in penalty minutes, delivered a hit on Paul Kariya in the right corner of the Predators offensive zone. Given Kariya's proximity to the boards, it was a borderline check that ultimately went unpenalized. Avery had already served two minutes in the second period for a high cross-check on one of the Predators' most physical players, Darcy Hordichuk. When Hordichuk saw the hit on Kariya, he'd had enough.
"It was a 4-1 lead and I said if Avery comes after me and cross checks me like he did in the second period, obviously I'm going to pick and choose my time," Hordichuk said. "But if you start messing with the stars of our team and going after those guys, there are obviously going to be consequences."
Hordichuk pounced on Avery less than 30 seconds after the hit, and continued to take swings at the 5'9", 185-pound winger as he shied away from the fight by turtling on the ice. Kings defenseman Tim Gleason attempted to intervene and a larger scrum ensued. when the dust had settled, Los Angeles was awarded a five-minute power play for a Hordichuk fighting major and both Hordichuk and Gleason were ejected from the game.
"It's a tough time," said Nashville center Jerred Smithson. "We're up a few goals and you want to protect your star player. It gave them a little spark there, being on the [power play] for a little bit. But we ended up killing it."
Nashville's Jeremy Stevenson was called for high-sticking at 14:45 as he too went after Avery, and the Kings pulled goaltender Jason LaBarbera during the ensuing power play for a six-against-four manpower advantage. LaBarbera stayed on the bench after Stevenson's penalty expired, and L.A. capitalized with a second goal by Armstrong at 17:27 that cut the lead to two. Remarkably, the Kings scored again with 50 seconds remaining--again with an extra attacker--to draw within one. The Predators were able to keep them at bay long enough for time to expire and for the 4-3 lead to become final.
"It almost got away from us, but the guys hung in there," Trotz said.
The final moments of the contest were in stark contrast to the first two periods. Scottie Upshall pocketed his first goal of the season to put Nashville up 1-0 5:55 into the game. Kariya added to the lead after a long outlet pass from Zidlicky sent him in one-on-one with LaBarbera midway through the first. Zidlicky then set up Sullivan at 5:45 of the second after nearly scoring himself at the right post. Sullivan was at an extreme angle to the right side of the net when he received the puck from Zidlicky and fired a shot that banked in off of LaBarbera to give the Predators a 3-0 cushion. Less than five minutes later, Adam Hall added a fourth goal, converting a pass from Steve Sullivan during a five-on-three power play.
"I thought in the first two periods we were really solid," Trotz said. "Our checking line checked and our scoring line scored. We got the big saves when we needed them. Guys did a really good job early battling through stuff, using our team speed. I thought we were pretty solid. We had a lot of scoring chances the first two periods."
Notes: Marek Zidlicky's three assists Thursday gave him his second three-point game of the season and extended his assist streak to three games. He has posted one goal and five assists in that span... With his goal tonight, Paul Kariya has amassed three goals and five assists for eight points in his last six games... Adam Hall has registered two goals--both game-winners--and three assists for five points in his last four games... Steve Sullivan has one goal and two assists in two games since returning to the lineup following a groin strain... Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun turned away 35 of the 38 Kings shots and recorded his 12th win of the season... Paul Kariya was awarded a penalty shot at 16:16 of the second period, but his attempt was blockered away by L.A. goalie Jason LaBarbera... The Predators are The Predators power play converted on one of four chances against L.A. Thursday and are now 12 of 41 (29.3%) over their last six games... Eight different players have scored on the power play for Nashville: Marek Zidlicky, Paul Kariya, Adam Hall and Steve Sullivan each have two goals; Dan Hamhuis, Martin Erat, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen each have one... After blanking the Kings during five power play opportunities Thursday, the Predators penalty killing has nullified 25 of 27 power plays over the last five games... Thursday's win was Nashville's fifth straight at home, where the team is 10-1 this season... The Predators are 6-1-0 over their last 7 and are now 14-3-3 on the season. The club's best previous record after 20 games was 7-7-5-1 in 2000-01... Nashville's 4-3 victory was their ninth one-goal win of the season... The Predators are now 2-0-1 against the Kings this season and 7-1-2 against teams in the Pacific Division... Captain Greg Johnson was a scratch for the second straight game with a groin strain injury. Danny Markov left Thursday's game in the middle of the second period with a groin strain as well and did not return... Dan Hamhuis skated in his 100th career NHL game Thursday.