Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn
Predators winger Steve Sullivan, pursued here by Wild center Jason Morgan, posted a goal and an assist in Minnesota Saturday to extend his points streak to four games.
Steve Sullivan scored a goal and an assist Saturday night as he led the Nashville Predators to a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. With the win, the Predators move to 9-3-1 on the season and complete their first ever sweep of a road trip comprising four or more games. In the process, Nashville handed Minnesota its first home loss of the season just three nights after doing the same to Edmonton.
"Any time you can win on the road it's positive, and any time you go on the road and play four games in four tough cities--two of the teams are undefeated at home--and come out victorious, it's just a credit to the leadership [among the team]," Predators assistant coach Peter Horachek said. In October, Nashville also swept a trip to the New York Metro area, downing the Islanders, Rangers, and Devils in the span of four nights.
The figureheads of the Predators' leadership certainly keyed Saturday's victory, as team captain Kimmo Timonen and alternate captains Sullivan and Paul Kariya each tallied a goal in the opening 40 minutes of play. The game was tied 3-3 when Sullivan set up defenseman Shea Weber for the eventual game-winning goal 3:34 into the third period. Sullivan, who had a fantastic game and was the catalyst for nearly all of Nashville's offensive chances in the opening 20 minutes, took first-star honors.
Defenseman Petteri Nummelin gave Minnesota an early 1-0 lead. A flood of three Wild forecheckers forced Nashville to turn over the puck in its own zone, prompting Minnesota's opportunity. Defenseman Brent Burns carried the puck deep to the end boards and centered to blueline partner Nummelin for a shot from the high slot that beat Vokoun 2:58 into the game. Sullivan then evened the score at 4:49, when center Vern Fiddler cut back behind the Wild net and fed Sullivan in the right circle for a one-timer that goaltender Manny Fernandez couldn't stop.
"[Sullivan] had a great game," Horachek said. "I think he had a great road trip. He really was good for us killing penalties and on the power play, and at regular strength he was a driving force. He got us going [Saturday] and scored a big goal there--a nice, real pretty setup that Fiddler did behind the net out to him in the slot that got us back on track after they scored that early goal. We didn't want to get off to a slow start but we felt that we weren't sharp early. So it got us going halfway through the period and we started playing much better."
Timonen made it 2-1 when he scored on a pinballing point shot at 16:57. The goal came during the Predators' first power-play opportunity of the night and was only the fifth extra-strength tally the Wild penalty killers--ranked first in the league--had allowed this season. "Scoring on the first [power play] gets you off to a positive start," said Horachek, who coaches Nashville's power play units. "You know if you get another [power play] you're feeling very confident about yourself. So that was real positive with them being such a good penalty-killing team."
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn
Predators forward Martin Erat returned to the lineup after missing one game with bruised ribs. He posted one assist and a +1 rating in 17:29 of ice time.
Nashville took the 2-1 lead into the first intermission, but Minnesota center Pavol Demitra finished off a 3-on-1 chance 4:13 into the second period to tie it at 2-2. Five minutes later, Kariya lobbed an outlet pass to Martin Erat, who was fouled while trying to pull the puck from his feet. The penalty, which was delayed while Nashville maintained possession of the puck, was never called because the Predators scored at 9:24. Vokoun left the ice for a sixth attacker, and the visitors worked the puck around the offensive zone until Erat set up Kariya for a one-timer as he was slicing through the slot. Kariya's shot found the back of the net to give Nashville a one-goal lead once again.
Just over 30 seconds later, Kariya went to the penalty box for a slash and the Wild converted on the manpower advantage to knot it at 3-3. Mark Parrish took a backhand feed from Mikko Koivu and deposited it behind Vokoun at 11:08.
The Predators would take the lead for good on Weber's goal 3:34 into the third. A decision by Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster to pinch for a hit on Nashville forward J.P. Dumont ended up costing Minnesota the game-winner. Though Foster's hit jarred the puck loose, the disc went to Sullivan, who carried it up the left side on a 2-on-2 rush, crossed the far blue line and cut to the middle. He passed across his body to Weber, who trailed the play on the left wing. Weber skated into the high slot and fired a shot that beat Fernandez cleanly to the upper left corner.
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn
Predators winger J.P. Dumont, who notched an assist to extend his points streak to four games, led all skaters with a +3 rating Saturday.
A couple of minutes later as Nashville skated on its third power-play of the night, Vokoun, who stopped 25 of 28 shots for the game, denied Minnesota's Brian Rolston on a superb short-handed breakaway chance.
"It could have been a turning point," Horacheck said. "I think that's why Tomas Vokoun is so good. He comes up with big saves like that in critical situations. We were set up in the zone on the power play and it was just an errant pass. They got a great chance. He gets lots of them, Rolston. That's why he's got 10 goals. He's their leading scorer on the team and Vokoun just made an exceptional save."
Rolston drew a penalty on the play and the Nashville penalty killers responded to nullify the ensuing power play. The Predators then held on down the stretch to record their fifth consecutive win and their first victory in Minnesota in the past nine meetings--dating back to Oct. 31, 2001.
Now the Nashville club that has been on the road since Friday, Oct. 27 returns home and will be rewarded with two days off before resuming practices on Tuesday. "The guys worked so hard on the road trip," Horachek said. "Eight days in a row is a long time. We've just got to make sure we're well rested and ready to go for three good practices before we hit Detroit on the road [this Friday]."
NOTES: Steve Sullivan posted a goal and an assist for his third straight two-point game. He has points in four straight games (2g-5a) and in the last six he's played (3g-6a). Sullivan leads Nashville in scoring with 14 points (5g-9a) in 10 games... J.P. Dumont notched an assist on Sullivan's goal to extend his points streak to four games... Forward Martin Erat returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday's game in Edmonton with bruised ribs. He recorded one assist and a +1 rating in 17:29 of ice time... The Predators were outshot for the first time in five games, by a 28-21 margin... After connecting on 1 of 3 chances Saturday, Nashville has scored a power-play goal in five straight games... Shea Weber's goal, his second in as many games, was the second game-winning tally of his career... Defensemen Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Kimmo Timonen have combined for five of Nashville's last 12 goals... Jerred Smithson and Darcy Hordichuk were scratches for Nashville.