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Preds ride power play to fifth straight win

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

After a seesaw start in which the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets traded goals to reach a 2-2 score, the Predators lit the lamp three straight times and withstood a Columbus rally in the third to capture a 5-4 victory Friday night in Nationwide Arena.

On the heels of a very disciplined effort against Chicago on Wednesday, the Predators hampered themselves Friday by committing 12 penalties in their final game before a two-day holiday break. As a result, much of the contest was devoted to special teams play--a battle the Predators won, as Nashville's penalty-killers and goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped the Blue Jackets on eight of their 10 power-play chances while the Predators' power play rang up three goals on seven opportunities with the man advantage.

"I didn't think we were very focused and it showed in the game," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. "But we got a win, and our power play was really good. And we obviously got good goaltending when we needed it.

"It's a tough time to get through--this last game right before the [Christmas break]," he added. "Just from a focus standpoint for players, they're looking to have a couple of days off, so I think you see that around the league."

Paul Kariya posted three assists and five different Predators scored in Nashville's fifth straight win, which moves the club's record to 23-7-3 overall and 9-0-1 against Central Division opponents. In a game that was exciting for the crowd of 16,330 but unsettling for Trotz, numerous turnovers, odd-man rushes and scoring chances produced loose-checking, end-to-end action that, when combined with the abundance of power-play time for Columbus, contributed to the Predators being outshot 39 to 22 in the game.

"It was a little more wide-open than we wanted to be," Trotz said, "but they came out real hard and went at us real hard."

The Predators never trailed in the game thanks to an early power-play marker by Scott Hartnell. With Jody Shelley in the penalty box for hooking, Nashville established possession in Columbus' zone. After taking a pass from Steve Sullivan, defenseman Kimmo Timonen fired a shot from the left point that was blocked by Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire. The 6'2", 210-pound Hartnell had staked out space in front of Leclaire and was well-positioned for a couple of whacks at the rebound before finally batting it out of mid-air and into the net for a 1-0 lead 4:24 into the game.

Nashville survived a couple of close calls--one, a short-handed shot from the slot by Trevor Letowski that was snared in Vokoun's glove, and the other a loose puck trickling along the Predators' goal line until cleared from harm's way by defenseman Danny Markov--before Columbus knotted the game at 11:06 with a power-play goal by Jaroslav Balastik. The tie would last only 32 seconds, however, as quick passes by Vern Fiddler and Kariya on the next shift got the puck to Nashville forward Scottie Upshall with a step on the defense. His shot from the left face-off circle beat Leclaire high to the far side to put the Predators up 2-1 at 11:38. It marked the 14th time this season that Columbus' opponent has scored within 90 seconds of a Blue Jackets goal.

Columbus responded even faster, though, using Shelley as a screen to prevent Vokoun from stopping Duvie Westcott's slap shot from the right circle. It tied the game at 12:03, but that wasn't it for the flurry. The Predators would retake the lead less than two minutes later when Fiddler picked up a rebound from a Kariya wrist shot and slid it through the legs of Leclaire at 14:17. Nashville then used its third power play of the night to extend the lead to 4-2 with 18 seconds remaining in the period. Forward Adam Hall made a nice play at the right point to hold the puck in Columbus' zone, and he passed it inside the blue line to Sullivan, who carried it to the left face-off circle. From there Sullivan beelined a cross-ice feed to Kariya at the right face-off dot, and Kariya in turn delivered a centering pass to Yanic Perreault in the low slot for a redirection past Leclaire.

The Blue Jackets benched Leclaire in favor of Marc Denis at the start the second, and the new netminder came up big midway through the period when he stopped Sullivan on a penalty shot. Vokoun made some key saves of his own in the middle stanza, forcing Mike Rupp to send his breakaway backhander wide of the goal six minutes in and making a pad save against Rick Nash at the 11:40 mark.

The Preds power play struck again at 15:07 to increase the lead to 5-3, after Jackets defenseman Radoslav Suchy was unable to clear the puck from his zone. Nashville's Marek Zidlicky knocked the puck down to Martin Erat, who passed it down low to Hall for a sharp-angle shot that beat Denis high to the short side. The goal turned out to be an important one for the Predators, who gave up another power-play goal to Balastik at 17:18 of the second and a short-handed breakaway tally from the stick of Jason Chimera at 14:03 of the third to set up a tight finish.

"They were really aggressive up ice," Trotz said of Columbus' penalty killers, who generated several offensive chances in the game. "One of the keys is working as hard on the power plays as you do when you're penalty killing, to be effective. Their penalty kill worked real hard and it created some turnovers. From there they get the short-handed goal and then they're right back in there."

The Blue Jackets pulled Denis for an extra attacker in the final minute of play, but Nashville held on to preserve the 5-4 margin until time expired.

The Predators return to action on Tuesday, when they begin a three-game Western Canada tour with a stop in Calgary. Games against Vancouver and Edmonton follow on Wednesday and Friday, respectively. Once that trip is completed, the team will make the journey home for a 7 p.m. game against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on New Year's Day (Sunday, Jan. 1). Less than 2,500 tickets remain for that match-up; to order, call (615) 770-PUCK, order online or visit the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster outlet.

Notes: The Predators have scored five or more goals in four of their last five games. The team has netted 26 goals in those five games... Nashville has scored at least one power-play goal in 18 of the last 19 games. The power play, which struck three times against Columbus, has scored two or more goals in 12 games this season... The Predators are now 13-4 in one-goal games and 14-0-2 when leading after two periods... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 35 of 39 shots for his 18th win of the season. He is currently tied for first among NHL goaltenders in wins... Adam Hall scored his seventh goal of the season Friday. It was also his third game-winner. Six of his seven goals have come on the power play. He has registered points in five of his last seven games.. Steve Sullivan had two assists Friday to extend his points-scoring streak to six games. He has five goals and five assists in that span... Timonen posted an assist against the Blue Jackets to extend his assist streak to five games... Scottie Upshall pocketed a goal and an assist Friday--the first multi-point game of his NHL career. He has points in five of his last six games... Paul Kariya tallied three assists against Columbus for his second three-point game in a row and third of the season... Yanic Perreault posted a goal and an assist Friday for his second consecutive multi-point game and fifth of the season. He also won 10 of 11 face-offs against the Blue Jackets. He has points in five of his last six games... Vern Fiddler, who netted a goal, has scored in two straight games. Friday night he logged 19:00 of ice time, his season-high... Martin Erat's assist against Columbus gives him points in five of his last six games... Marek Zidlicky registered an assist and now has 10 points in his last nine contests and 22 points in his last 19... Mark Eaton was the only scratch for Nashville.

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