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Preds peppered by Panthers in 7-3 loss

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Predators goaltender Brian Finley, who started Nashville's game against the Florida Panthers Tuesday night after scheduled starter Chris Mason injured his groin in warm-ups, was riddled with 41 shots and the Panthers used a four-goal second period to pull away in a 7-3 Predators loss at BankAtlantic Center. Yanic Perreault had two assists for the Predators, who have lost three in a row and now stand at 18-7-3 on the season.

"[Mason] came out of the warm-up and felt that he tweaked his groin and he wouldn't be able to go," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "Basically we had already circled him on our lineup sheet. He thought he could gut it out but he tried to do a couple moves and it just didn't feel right. Therefore, Brian Finley was told about two minutes before we had to go out, so it put him in a real tough spot. We felt we didn't want to risk [Mason] hurting himself long-term because we already have Tomas [Vokoun] out for a little bit here."

Predators forward Adam Hall gave Finley an early lead to work with, scoring from the slot on the power play at 5:59 of the first. The play was set up by Perreault, who was to the right of Florida's net when he took a pass from Martin Erat high in the zone. Perreault tried to send the puck across the goal mouth to Steve Sullivan, but Panthers defender Lukas Krajicek blocked the pass by laying his stick flat on the ice. The puck came back toward Perreault's feet, however, and he used his right skate to kick the puck to Hall waiting in the slot. Hall's shot high to the right corner beat Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo to put Nashville up 1-0.

The goal came on Nashville's second power play of the game. There were four more opportunities with the man advantage before the first 20 minutes expired, but the Predators were unable to capitalize on any of them. Meanwhile, Gary Roberts tied the score on a Florida power play at 13:51 when he backhanded the puck under Finley as the goalie was in the process of standing up from a butterfly position.

"First period, we came out, we skated really well and created a lot of penalties," Trotz said. "But I was tremendously disappointed with our power play. We scored a quick power-play goal and drew I think four or five more penalties, but we didn't have the intention of scoring. I was really disappointed in our group there, that we had a chance to sort of take control of the game and we just played it out."

Midway through the second period, Florida's Nathan Horton started the four-goal flurry that would put the Predators in a deep hole. He roofed the puck over Finley from the right side to make it 2-1 at 9:45. At 10:32, Gary Roberts executed a wraparound that beat the Nashville goaltender to the far side. Winger Martin Gelinas deflected home a shot from Olli Jokinen on the power play at 17:28, and Horton struck again less than a minute later to give his club a 5-1 lead.

That margin would grow to 7-1 in the third period on goals by Juraj Kolnik at 3:04 and a third tally by Horton at 11:21 to complete his first career hat trick. At that point the Predators began to claw their way back, following up Horton's third with a goal by Scottie Upshall 54 seconds later and a power-play marker by Steve Sullivan 37 seconds after that. Upshall's goal developed after Luongo and defenseman Steve Montador became entangled behind the net during an attempted hand-off. The puck came loose to Nashville's Darcy Hordichuk along the right boards, and he chipped it out to Upshall who came out of the right corner toward the slot. Upshall's first shot was blocked by a sliding Montador and flipped into the air, where Upshall batted it into a still-vacated net as he was falling. The goal made it 7-2 at 12:15 of the third.

With Florida's Eric Cairns in the box for roughing up Upshall after his goal, Perreault again set the table from the right side of the Panthers' net. This time he found Sullivan in the left face-off dot and connected with him for a one-timer that beat Luongo and cut the lead to 7-3 at 12:52. Sullivan had two more stellar chances with four minutes remaining, but both were thwarted by Luongo to secure his club's first victory in five games.

For the game, Luongo stopped 31 of Nashville's 34 shots while Finley stopped 34 of Florida's 41. The Predators' power play converted on two of nine chances but struggled much of the night, while the penalty killers allowed two goals on three Panther power plays. "I was not happy with our special teams even though we got two goals on it for the night," Trotz said.

Last week, as he commented on the unusual scenario by which Mason was thrust into the Dec. 8 New York Rangers game with no warning when an injured Vokoun could not continue, Trotz stated that he felt the turn of events caught the team off guard and that it showed in their poor play. Despite similar circumstances against Florida, Trotz insisted that the quick goaltender switch played no part in the Predators' performance Tuesday.

"I think the one the other night totally surprised us," Trotz said. "No one knew, because Tomas didn't say anything. At least we had a couple of minutes to sort of talk about it [Tuesday night]--Finley's in. And it showed in the first period. We came out, we skated, we did the right things, drew some penalties because we were skating and they couldn't handle our speed. Then after that we just backed off."

On the plus side, Nashville did see the return of defenseman Danny Markov to the lineup. The gritty blueliner had missed seven games with a groin strain and is the first of five players on injured reserve to make it back to game action. As the others mend, Trotz is expecting key players to carry the team and make a difference in games like Tuesday's.

"Right now we have some people out," Trotz said. "We need our top guys to step up and lead this team and take charge. If you take ownership of the game on the power play early, it might be a different story."

Next, the Predators return home for a three-game homestand that opens against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday. Game time is 7 p.m. and tickets are still available. To order, call (615) 770-PUCK, purchase online, or visit the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster outlet. That game will be followed by a Saturday showdown with the Columbus Blue Jackets and a match-up with the Colorado Avalanche next Tuesday. Tickets remain for those games as well.

Notes: With his power-play tally Tuesday night, Adam Hall has scored goals in two straight games. Five of his six goals this season have come on the power play... Yanic Perreault posted two power-play assists against Florida for his third multi-point game of the season. Nine of his 14 points this season have come on the power play... Steve Sullivan's third-period goal gives him four points in his last four games (3 goals, 1 assist)... The Predators' four penalties against Florida tied their season low, which happened one other time--against St. Louis on Oct. 20... Nashville's two power-play goals marked the second time in 10 contests that the team had scored two or more power-play goals in a game. The club has scored at least one goal with the man advantage in 13 of its last 14 games... Brian Finley's start in goal was his first in the NHL, and the second NHL appearance of his career. He replaced Tomas Vokoun in the first period of Nashville's Jan. 1, 2003, game against Colorado... Nathan Horton's hat trick was the first against Nashville since Brendan Shanahan posted one on March 14, 2004. It was the 16th in franchise history... The Predators' seven goals against Tuesday night established a new season high. They had given up five on two previous occasions... Nashville is now 5-4-3 on the road and 2-3-0 against Eastern Conference teams... Darcy Hordichuk logged a season-high 10:02 of ice time Tuesday... Dan Hamhuis registered a career-high seven shots... Scottie Upshall, who netted his second goal of the season and third of his NHL career, posted a career-high five shots... Attendance at the BankAtlantic Center was 14,827.

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