The Nashville Predators beat the Columbus Blue Jackets for the third time in six nights Monday, winning 3-1 in Nationwide Arena. Paul Kariya, Scott Nichol and Martin Erat scored to give the Predators a 3-0 lead before a goal by Jason Chimera with 14.3 seconds remaining in regulation spoiled goaltender Tomas Vokoun's shutout bid.
Kariya and Erat each posted a goal and an assist, while Nichol registered his second game-winning tally against Columbus in six nights. Nashville is now 13-4-2 on the season and moves into sole possession of first place in the Central Division.
Though Nashville has recently been guilty of building early leads only to let teams claw back in the third period, that wasn't as much of an issue Monday.
"We didn't have a great third period, but it wasn't bad," Predators associate coach Brent Peterson said. "They scored with 14 seconds to go on the rebound. We didn't give up big-time chances like we have in the past. It's pretty hard to play completely tight when you're up 3-0. I thought for two periods we gave them nothing. They only had three chances in two periods. We were very stingy and played hard and worked in both ends and did a real good job."
Kariya, who had been snakebitten on scoring chances in recent games, gave the Predators a 1-0 lead 9:49 into the first period. Martin Erat's chip out of the defensive zone sent Kariya and David Legwand in on a two-on-one against Columbus defenseman Ron Hainsey. Hainsey favored Legwand, allowing Kariya to cut in front of the net from the left wing and lift a backhand shot high into the top right corner.
In the second period, the Predators capitalized with Chimera in the box for interfering with Scott Hartnell on a rush. During the power play, Steve Sullivan carried the puck from his own end into the offensive zone before curling at the right point to buy space and time. He then sent the puck to Legwand in the left circle. Legwand, who had made a strong defensive play as the lone defender at the other end just before Sullivan's rush, redirected the puck with one touch to forward Scott Nichol in front. Nichol simply shoveled the puck over goaltender Fredrik Norrena to put the Predators up by two at 5:13.
Late in the period the Predators tacked on another goal during a delayed penalty call. Predators defenseman Marek Zidlicky pinched deep in the offensive zone, prompting Kariya to cover the right point. When Kariya got the puck, he faked a shot, took a quick two strides toward the middle of the ice and unleashed a wrist shot into traffic. Erat, tied up by a defenseman in front, managed to tip the puck on its way to the net. The deflection eluded Norenna to make it 3-0 at 18:28 of the second.
Columbus came on stronger in the third. Vokoun faced more shots in the final 20 minutes (14 shots) than he had over the first two periods combined (10). As the last seconds of the game ticked off the clock, Blue Jackets' defenseman Anders Eriksson released a shot from the right point that Vokoun stopped but couldn't hold. Chimera got free from defenders long enough to swat the puck past the outstretched right leg pad of Vokoun and into the net at 19:45. That goal made it a 3-1 game but did little more than erase Vokoun's shutout.
The Blue Jackets' third-period push was assisted by a shortened Predators bench. Center Jason Arnott left the game early in the second period and forward Josef Vasicek departed in the third, both with injuries. "Arnott and Vasicek will be day-to-day," Peterson said. "We'll see how they are. It's nothing serious."
Nashville won the always crucial special teams battle by going 1-for-6 on the power play and killing off both Columbus power plays. The fact that the Jackets had only two opportunities with the manpower advantage over 60 minutes of play was significant in its own right--a testament to good team discipline by the Predators.
"Even when they had some cycles going in our end we kept our sticks down and we angled and we did a real good job of defensive zone coverage," Peterson said. "We didn't get into any trouble and they were on the outside. We didn't take any hooking or bad penalties. We moved our feet and did a real good job. It's important. If they go on the power play that's how you give them momentum."
Next the Predators will make their first trip of the season to Dallas to take on the Stars Wednesday. Nashville will then return to the friendly confines of the Gaylord Entertainment Center for a Thanksgiving Day game against the Vancouver Canucks at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online or visiting any Ticketmaster outlet or the GEC box office.
NOTES: Defenseman Kevin Klein, who was called up from Nashville's minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee on Monday, made his season debut Monday and was responsible for half of the Predators 10 blocked shots in the game. "He played really solid, really terrific," Peterson said of Klein. "He's got good speed and is hard on the puck. We'll just get him some experience here and get him up to speed on the speed of the game. He played very well tonight"... Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan each extended their assist streaks to four games with helpers Monday. Marek Zidlicky now has an assist in each of the last three contests... Nashville is 10-1-1 when leading after one period, 10-0-2 when leading after two, and 10-2-1 when scoring first... The Predators are 9-3-0 on the road this season and 6-1-1 overall this November... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun has allowed just three goals in his last two appearances--both wins against Columbus... Dan Hamhuis (soreness), Jerred Smithson and Mikko Lehtonen were scratched for the Predators. Forward Scottie Upshall (groin strain) was placed on injured reserve Monday.