Photo by John Russell
Predators forward Scott Hartnell, who scored Nashville's first goal Saturday, leaps to avoid a shot while screening Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
Coming off a successful three-game road trip, the Nashville Predators seemingly had a good handle on their game against the visiting Vancouver Canucks Saturday night as it came down the stretch. They held a 3-2 lead and were the better team for most of the final two periods. But strong goaltending from the Canucks' Roberto Luongo prevented Nashville from extending its lead, and a goal from Vancouver center Brendan Morrison with 1:40 remaining in regulation tied the game at 3-3. Canucks' defenseman Lukas Krajicek then beat Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun for the game-winner 2:32 into overtime, forcing the Predators to settle for one point in a 4-3 OT loss.
Though the Predators were visibly frustrated at the means by which they relinquished the point--giving Vancouver life with a few late penalties--Nashville still captured nine out of 10 possible points in the past five games. Those five came over an eight-day span and three of them were on the road. Still, the overtime loss left a bitter taste in the Predators' mouths.
"I don't think it was our best game in the last four, that's for sure," head coach Barry Trotz said afterward. "But it was there for the taking."
Scott Hartnell, J.P. Dumont and Martin Erat each scored for Nashville. With the point earned Saturday, the Predators move to 4-3-1 on the season and take sole possession of the Central Division lead.
Vancouver opened the scoring just 1:00 into the game. Jan Bulis took a pass in the left circle from Markus Naslund and fired a shot back across the body of Vokoun, who was sliding from right to left in his crease. The Predators tied it less than six minutes later. Hartnell positioned himself in front of Luongo and deflected Shea Weber's point shot off the shaft of his stick. The puck arced over the Vancouver netminder as if in slow motion before landing inside the goal cage at 5:55.
With just under 10:00 played, defenseman Ryan Suter kept it tied at 1-1 by making a nice play to intercept a weak shot while skating through the top of the Predators' crease. A few moments later, with blueliner Mikko Lehtonen in the penalty box for interference, Nashville's penalty killers turned in a fantastic performance to shut down the Canucks' second power play of the night. The Predators seemed to have momentum in their favor after a big hit along the boards rallied the crowd, but that shifted after the ensuing face-off. Vancouver gained possession of the puck and it ended up on the stick of Daniel Sedin behind the Nashville net. Sedin delivered a pass out front to Taylor Pyatt, who one-timed it in a flash and beat Vokoun to make it 2-1 at 16:13.
Paul Kariya started heating up in the second period. He created a nice chance early when he sent a pass from the defensive zone up to linemate Jason Arnott, who wedged his way in from the left side before firing a backhand into Luongo at 2:12.
Five minutes into the period, Vancouver's sizable forwards had sustained pressure along the boards in Nashville's end before Weber got the puck free to Lehtonen in the right corner. Lehtonen sent a clearing pass up to Dumont in the neutral zone. Dumont cruised down a clear lane on the right side with a step on the defense and ripped a shot through Luongo's five-hole to knot it at 2-2 at 5:35.
"The puck was in our zone for a while but we kept it to the outside," Dumont said. "When I saw that our defenseman had the puck with full control of it, I just got out of the zone when I saw the [Vancouver] defenseman was going to pinch in. It was a great pass. It was a 2-on-1 there. I just looked at the guy where he was coming and I had it pretty open for a shot, so I just went five-hole and it went in. It was a big goal and after that we had the full momentum of the period."
Vokoun delivered three four big stops immediately thereafter, the first of which came on a 2-on-1 rush by Krajicek and Alexandre Burrows. Then around the 6:00 mark, he made three sharp saves in quick succession on Matt Cooke, Josh Green and then Cooke again.
Those saves proved to be key as Nashville secured its first lead of the game at 6:40. A turnover in the Predators' end sent Kariya and Martin Erat on a 2-on-1 break all the way from their own blue line. Kariya, skating down the left wing, patiently held the puck before finally sending it to Erat, whose one-timer easily beat a shifting Luongo to make it 3-2.
"We played well defensively and when you're in good defensive position you're going to get some opportunities like that," Kariya said. "We got two 2-on-1's and capitalized on them."
The odd-man rushes were the direct result of an adjustment Nashville made during the first intermission. After noticing how often Vancouver's defenseman were travelling deep into the offensive zone to spark offense or keep plays alive, the Predators began using the move against them.
"We talked about it after the first period," Trotz said. "There's a little bit of a feeling out process when you play a team for the first time. In the second and third period we recognized they were pinching and we just chipped pucks out and got the 2-on-1's."
Hustle by Kariya three minutes later drew a hooking penalty against Matt Cooke that put the Canucks down two men for a 46-second period. "I think you could tell in the first period, when we weren't skating, they were outmuscling us and beating us to loose pucks," Nichol said. "But after that I think we used our speed and our body position and we really took it to them. If you look at the penalties, a lot of their penalties were hooking and interference just because they couldn't handle our speed."
Vancouver called its 30-second timeout then received some stellar goaltending from Luongo as he kept Nashville at bay during the two-man advantage. His best stops were a shoulder save on a Kariya chance and a glove save on Timonen's blast from between the two circles.
Photo by John Russell
Predators Marek Zidlicky, Martin Erat and Kimmo Timonen (left to right) celebrate Erat's second-period goal with players on the bench.
Friction between Predators forward Jordin Tootoo and Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa had been evident all night and came to a head as the puck dropped to start the third period. The two dropped their gloves from opposite sides of the center-ice circle and engaged in a fight that quickly ended with the two tumbling to the ice. It was clear Bieksa was hoping to give his team momentum with the scrap, but Nashville was the side that turned up the pressure.
Following a holding penalty to Ryan Kesler at the 11-second mark, Erat just missed converting a rebound attempt as Luongo stopped him. Five minutes later, Arnott delivered a crunching hit on Willie Mitchell in the corner of the Canucks' zone. Mitchell, noticeably impaired by the hit, stumbled back to his feet and teetered slowly to the Vancouver bench. Kariya and Timonen nearly just missed converting on a 2-on-1 chance three minutes later, and Luongo prevented forward Scottie Upshall from depositing a wrap-around seconds after that. Weber then crushed Krajicek with a wedge-off hit along the boards just inside the Predators' zone to draw cheers from the crowd of 16,073.
With everything going their way, the Predators were poised to put the game away once Daniel Sedin was called for holding at 8:59 of the third. Less than a minute into the manpower advantage, Kariya fired a tough shot from the top of the right circle that hit Luongo's shoulder and then the right post before heading back out into play. A quarter of a minute later, Kariya set up Timonen for a super chance in the slot. Luongo's sweeping glove hand pulled it out of mid-air, leaving Timonen to look skyward in disbelief. One minute later, at 11:06, Alexander Radulov--making his NHL debut--took a tripping penalty in the neutral zone. It was the first of three penalties by Nashville that opened the door to Vancouver in the game's final minutes.
"I really thought the momentum changed on the power play when we had Kimmo coming up the middle, Kariya, Erat--we had three outstanding scoring chances and Luongo really stood on his head," Trotz said. "He stood tall and gave them some momentum. Then we took three penalties in the last nine minutes. We killed them all off and they scored a goal a few seconds after we killed the [second to] last one there."
Mikko Lehtonen's infraction at 16:10 for clearing the puck over the glass--the penalty Trotz was referring to--was the most costly. With time to make a play, the first-year NHL defenseman rushed and launched the puck over the boards to earn an automatic delay of game call. While Vokoun and Nashville's penalty killers were again fantastic, the Canucks' continued pressure ultimately resulted in Morrison's goal just 10 seconds after Lehtonen's two-minute minor had expired.
"I thought our penalty killing did a really good job tonight considering the forwards they have and their defense," Nichol said. "[The loss] was a tough one to swallow, that's for sure. [Our team] kind of came out flat. We knew they played last night in St. Louis and we really picked it up I thought in the second and third periods, and really took it to them. Give their goalie credit. He played really well tonight. We had some good chances on him and he made some good saves."
A hooking penalty to Tootoo with 1:10 remaining put Nashville's PK units to work again, and again they shut down the Canucks power play for the remainder of regulation and the first 50 seconds of the four-on-four overtime. Vokoun made three rapid stops on Henrik Sedin at the tail end of the penalty, then Kariya was stopped on a good chance by Luongo a minute later. Over two minutes into the extra session, Vokoun turned aside close chances by Kesler and Cooke before a seemingly harmless breakout by Vancouver resulted in Krajicek's game winner from the left circle.
While the postgame mood in the Nashville locker room felt like a loss, the single point earned by the Predators will most likely prove valuable in the standings as the season progresses.
"We've got nine points in eight days," Trotz said. "People tend to forget that was four games in six night for us. It was the first home game. We're playing against a pretty good team, Vancouver. As I say, the game of hockey is such a winding and twisting road. If we score when we're up 3-2 with Timonen, Kariya, and Erat, we're probably sitting here going, 'What a great game.' It can turn on a dime."
NOTES: Defenseman Kimmo Timonen played in his 501st career NHL game Saturday night--all as a member of the Nashville Predators. He is now just one game away from Johnson's franchise record of 502. Timonen posted an assist against Vancouver and has a helper in each of the last three games. He has logged more than 25:00 of ice time in five straight games... Nashville's penalty killers were a perfect 7-for-7 against the Canucks power play, and are now 30-for-32 over the last six games... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun is 3-0-1 in his last four games, stopping 131 of 137 shots faced in that span... Defenseman Shea Weber registered two assists Saturday, his second two-assist game of the season... Martin Erat scored a goal and extended his point streak to three games (2g-2a). He now leads the team in scoring with 8 points... The Predators scored two second-period goals against Vancouver and have now outscored opponents 10-2 in the middle period this season... Forward Vern Fiddler posted his first assist and first point of the season on Scott Hartnell's goal... Forwards Darcy Hordichuk, Steve Sullivan and Josef Vasicek were injury scratches for Nashville.