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Sullivan's OT winner knocks off Avs

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Sullivan beats Aebischer in OT.
Photo by John Russell
Steve Sullivan watches as his shot to the top right corner beats goaltender David Aebischer and gives Nashville the 4-3 overtime victory.
Steve Sullivan scored on an overtime breakaway Thursday night to snap the Nashville Predators' three-game losing streak with a 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Sullivan also set up Scott Walker for a second-period goal that marked the first of three times the Predators came back to tie the game. Walker added another in the third and newcomer Mike Sillinger also lit the lamp for the Predators, who killed off 10 minutes of Avalanche power-play time in the first period to keep the game within reach.

The victory pushes Nashville's record to 32-15-6 overall and 20-5-1 at home. With 70 points in the standings, the Predators pull to within five points of the conference-leading Detroit Red Wings, against whom they play a home-and-home series next Wednesday and Thursday nights. In the meantime, Nashville will host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday and travel to Dallas for a game Monday night. Thursday's showdown with Colorado was the second of back-to-back games for a Nashville club that lost 2-1 to Dallas on Wednesday.

From the drop of the puck Thursday, it was evident that the Predators were playing with an edge that hadn't been present in their previous three games. Head coach Barry Trotz, who had been starting Greg Johnson's line, put the energy line of Jerred Smithson, Darcy Hordichuk and Jeremy Stevenson out for the opening face-off. After a strong first shift, the line found itself back on the ice with about three and a half minutes gone. Moments after just missing with a shot that glanced off the right pad of Colorado goaltender David Aebischer, Hordichuk delivered a bruising check to Ossi Vaananen along the end boards, moved immediately to the front of the net and tipped a Ryan Suter shot off the crossbar.

"They set the tone, there's no question," Trotz said. "That was one of the reasons they started tonight, because we wanted to add some emotion to the game."

The strategy worked, as every Nashville player seemed intent on finishing checks and delivering a hit whenever the opportunity presented itself.

"I felt we showed a lot of character tonight," Sullivan said. "You can't question the heart and the desire and the work ethic tonight. We made a couple of mistakes defensively that cost us some goals, but it wasn't from lack of effort. For us to be able to outwork and finally beat a good hockey club that was sitting here waiting for us last night makes us feel good."

Colorado opened the scoring 4:38 into the first period, when defenseman Brett Clark deposited the rebound of a shot by Milan Hejduk. Then a series of penalty calls left the Predators short-handed for 10 of the contest's first 20 minutes, including two brief five-on-three disadvantages. Nashville blanked the Avalanche on six power-play opportunities in the first--and a total of eight for the game.

"I thought that our penalty killing and Tomas [Vokoun] really gave us a chance to win the hockey game with the great first period, by only allowing that one goal against us and killing off what felt like about 100 penalties," Sullivan said. "Coming [into the locker room] after the first period, we still felt good about ourselves."

That attitude carried over into the second, where the Predators scored the only goal of the period at the 1:44 mark. Sullivan first made a nifty play to strip the puck from a Colorado player near the Avs blue line, then he set up Walker in the right circle for his fourth of the season.

The teams alternated goals in the third, with Cody McCormick putting Colorado back on top 3:22 into the final frame. Sillinger answered for Nashville by notching his first as a Predator at 9:18. The goal, which tied the game at 2-2, was generated on a rush that started when Dan Hamhuis chipped the puck off the right wall ahead for Martin Erat. Erat caught up to the puck and centered to Sillinger in the high slot for a one-timer that beat Aebischer.

Mike Modano and Tomas Vokoun
Photo by Frederick Breedon
Steve Sullivan rejoices after netting the game winner in overtime.
A Predators miscue in their own zone allowed the Avalanche to regain the lead less than two minutes later. Sakic found the puck amidst a scramble at the left post and forced it past Vokoun for a 3-2 lead at 11:11. "The puck was under my pad and I couldn't get to it," Vokoun said. "[Sakic] came from behind and kind of stripped it and put it in the net."

Nashville had gone zero-for-four on the power play earlier in the game, but Brad Richardson's high-sticking penalty at 15:28 provided the Predators with a timely opportunity to cash in. With 2:39 remaining in regulation, they did just that. Defenseman Kimmo Timonen sent the puck to Kariya in the top of the right circle. Kariya made a one-touch pass to Perreault in the slot, and Perreault in turn one-touched the puck toward the net. En route, the disc clipped Walker as he camped out in front of Aebischer, and slowly trickled over the goal line to give Walker his second tally of the night and, more importantly, send the game into overtime.

"We basically had the knife against our throat there, and the guys came through on the power play and scored," Vokoun said.

Once into the four-on-four, five-minute extra session, the sides traded chances--each mustering two shots before Sullivan got his two-thirds-of-the-ice breakaway and ended the game.

"The [Colorado puck carrier] was getting pinned off on the board," Sullivan said, recounting the play that began just inside the Nashville blue line. "I was coming across and he tried to get it through me. It bounced off my shin pads and sent me off to the races. And after that it was just trying to read what [Aebischer] was giving me. He tried to show the five-hole, and I faked a five-hole shot and went upstairs. Luckily for me it went in."

All in all, Trotz was pleased with his team's work ethic and resilience.

"Our minds weren't real strong in terms of the X's and O's, but our hearts were big tonight," Trotz said. "Sometimes, to get off a three-game losing streak or any kind of losing streak, you need that extra effort, that extra heart and mental toughness. You've got to fight through stuff. Tonight, I think we did, so hats off to everybody in the room. They dug in and found a way to win."

Notes: Scott Walker, who scored twice Thursday against the Avalanche, recorded his second two-goal game of the season. His third-period tally was also his first power-play goal of the season... Steve Sullivan's goal was his 26th this season, which ties the club record (Cliff Ronning, 1999-2000). It was also his fifth game-winner of the season, which ties him for second on the team in that category (Hartnell, 6; Hall, 5). Sullivan also tied his season-high for shots in a game with seven and logged a season-high 23:06 of ice time... Colorado outshot Nashville 46-31, including a 17-6 margin in the first period. The Predators are 18-8-6 this season when outshot by their opponent... Thursday's victory was Nashville's 20th one-goal win of the season (20-10)... The Predators' penalty killers were a perfect eight-for-eight against the Avalanche, and are 15-for-15 over the last two games... Tomas Vokoun made 43 saves to record his 26th win of the season... Nashville won 64 percent of the face-offs Thursday night, led by Greg Johnson who won 14 of 17... The Predators are 18-8-2 when allowing the first goal of the game... Paul Kariya's assist on Scott Walker's second goal Thursday gives him four assists in his last three games... Martin Erat assisted on Mike Sillinger's goal to extend his point streak to three games... Yanic Perreault collected an assist on Walker's second goal and now has points in three straight games... Jeremy Stevenson played his 100th game as a Predator Thursday... Marek Zidlicky, Scott Nichol and Vernon Fiddler were scratches for Nashville... Attendance at the Gaylord Entertainment Center was 12,057.

Video: Watch the game highlights (1:15)

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