In a scenario reminiscent of the Nashville Predators' Oct. 5 season opener against the San Jose Sharks, Scott Hartnell scored a third-period game-winning goal at the Gaylord Entertainment Center Saturday night to complete a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over San Jose. Nashville remains one of two undefeated National Hockey League teams with the win, increasing its record to 7-0-0 and establishing the longest winning streak in franchise history.
"At 7-0 it is a great feeling," Hartnell said. "The guys are playing with a lot of confidence. Everyone is doing their best to keep the streak alive."
"We got big goals when we needed [them], and just enough to win," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. "We got great goaltending, and I thought we got really good performances from a lot of the straight-line gritty guys."
A strong effort from San Jose made for tough sledding for the Predators. The first period ended in a scoreless tie despite a late 5-on-3 power play for Nashville. The Predators appeared to have scored during the two-man advantage when a goal mouth scramble pushed Sharks goaltender Vesa Toskala into the net. The goal was initially waved off by a referee, then a "no goal" determination was announced following a video review.
The Sharks came out firing in the second, forcing Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun to make three tough saves in the first minute of play. Early penalties to Jamie Allison and Dan Hamhuis gave San Jose a 5-on-3 advantage that the visiting side converted on at the 3:17 mark. A shot by Tom Preissing caromed off of Vokoun to the stick of Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo, who one-timed the puck into an open side of the goal.
Scott Nichol's penalty less than one minute later put the Sharks back on a 5-on-3. This time it was Nashville who had the best scoring chance, though, as Hamhuis stepped out of the penalty box, picked up the approaching puck and skated in on a failed breakaway attempt.
Hartnell, who left the ice in pain after blocking a shot four minutes into the second, returned moments later with a burr under his saddle. His hard work in the offensive zone led to two San Jose penalties at 6:15 and another 5-on-3 chance for Nashville. Just over a minute into the advantage, Yanic Perreault's attempted centering pass to Hartnell deflected off the skate of a Sharks defenseman and into the goal to tie the game at 7:35 of the second period.
"I knew there were a couple of guys in front of the net," said Perreault. "That's what we were trying to do in the last two periods--trying to get more shots. Sometimes we're trying to be too fancy, too cute."
The teams traded chances in the first half of the third. The Predators began turning the momentum with a power play eight minutes in. Though they didn't score on it, they generated a lot of shots and Toskala began leaving generous rebounds. A strong shift by the line of Perreault, Jeremy Stevenson and Adam Hall at the midway point put the Sharks on their heels. Then, at 11:34, Hartnell picked up the rebound of a David Legwand shot from the blue line and fired it into the left side of the net to give Nashville a 2-1 lead.
The Predators and Vokoun had a scare five minutes later, when a rising shot by Marcel Goc caught the Nashville goalie on the side of the neck. Vokoun stuck with the play for several seconds until a stoppage occurred, then he collapsed to the ice face first, shedding his catching glove and mask. After a visit by the trainer, Vokoun stayed in the game.
"I've never been hit like that, right in the neck," Vokoun said. "I've been hit in the collarbone. This one was wierd. It hit me right on the side of the neck. A bit of a scary situation, but it's behind me."
Vokoun was forced to put it behind him in a hurry, as San Jose poured on the offense in the final minutes. He made key saves and his teammates cleared the puck down the ice several times to preserve the win as the last seconds expired.
"We knew that they were going to come out hard," Hartnell said. "They haven't had too many wins this year and they did just that. They came out hard. They got the lead. Our guys were sacrificing themselves, putting their bodies in the right place to save a goal or save a shot, and that's what we need to do to win."
Vokoun was superb in net, stopping 37 of 38 shots for the game. Toskala played well in place of the injured Evgeni Nabokov too, turning away 28 of 30 chances.
"Tomas Vokoun--there's no question in my mind that he was by far the No. 1 star tonight," Trotz said. "He was great in the second period and he made some great saves toward the end of the game when he needed to.
"Tonight Tomas was the reason, I thought, that we won the hockey game."
The Predators' will put their unblemished record on the line again at home on Tuesday, when they host Central Division rivals the Chicago Blackhawks. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. That contest will be the 500th game for the Nashville franchise. All fans in attendance will be able to enjoy free popcorn as part of the concessions promotions that the Predators are offering on Tuesdays (free popcorn) and Thursdays ($1 hot dogs) in October and November. For tickets, call (615) 770-PUCK, order online, or visit any Ticketmaster outlet.
Notes: The 2005-06 Nashville Predators have now accumulated the franchise's most wins (7) and most points (14) ever in the month of October... The last team to start 7-0-0 was Pittsburgh in 1994-95. Tampa Bay started off 6-0-0 in 2002-03. The record for longest winning streak to start a season belongs to the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs, who went 10-0-0... Scott Hartnell extended his point-scoring streak to four games with his goal Saturday night... Nashville went 1-for-7 on the power play; San Jose went 1-for-6... The Sharks outshot Nashville 18 to eight in the second period. Total shots were 38 for San Jose and 30 for Nashville... First-year defenseman Ryan Suter, who entered Saturday's game leading the Predators with a +4 rating and tied for the NHL lead among rookies in plus/minus rating, was +1 against San Jose... David Legwand netted his fourth assist of the season Saturday night and now needs only one point to reach the 200-point milestone for his career... Nashville won 57 percent of the face-offs against San Jose, led by Scott Nichol's five win in six draws taken (83 percent)... Danny Markov and Simon Gamache were scratches for the Predators... Saturday night's attendance was 12,668.