Steve Sullivan scored two goals, Tomas Vokoun stopped 27 of 28 shots and Scott Walker posted his first point since returning from injury as the Nashville Predators defeated the visiting New York Islanders 2-1 Tuesday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The victory is the second in a row for Nashville, whose record improves to 27-12-3 for the season.
Sullivan's winning goal, which came with just over three minutes remaining in the game, was a highlight reel, no-look backhander that sailed high over crouched Islanders goaltender Wade Dubielewicz. When asked after the game if he had seen the net when he shot, Sullivan answered, "No, but I know where it is. I didn't look at it. Since he's a smaller goaltender, I was hoping that he was taking the bottom of the net away. I tried to get it upstairs."
Sullivan's goals were his 20th and 21st of the season, making this his seventh consecutive season with 20 or more goals. He also set a new franchise record for the fewest games to 20 goals by a Predator--38 games. The old record was 51, set by Andreas Johansson on Feb. 13, 2003.
The Predators came out strong in the first period, generating many chances in an effort to quickly put away the fragile Islanders, who had lost seven of their previous eight games. Aside from two solid saves that Vokoun had to make on Oleg Kvasha, Nashville seemingly reloaded for rush after rush during the opening 20 minutes. Yet the Predators were unable to put a puck past Dubielewicz until Sullivan broke through in the final minute of the period.
The play developed as center Vernon Fiddler took a head-man pass and carried the puck into the offensive zone on the right wing. Inside the blue line, he centered the puck to Paul Kariya who cut to the middle and dished to his left to Sullivan, who had a better shooting opportunity on net. Sullivan wristed the puck past Dubielewicz to the far side at 19:51 to give Nashville a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
The Predators' inability to finish on many of their early chances nearly came back to haunt them. Capping off a three-on-one break created by a bad Nashville line change, New York's Kvasha delivered a cross-ice pass to Shawn Bates at the right post for a tap-in goal that knotted the score at 1-1 at the 1:22 mark. As the period progressed and the score remained tied, the Islanders' confidence seemed to grow and the visitors began to generate offensive chances while picking up their hitting game. The Predators came up empty on two power-play opportunities in the latter half of the middle stanza.
"I thought we were playing really well," Walker said. "We just weren't getting the bounces. Then you start to fight it and fight it. But I thought we stuck to the system and played well."
Nashville re-established itself with a strong second shift in the third. The line of Fiddler, Kariya and Martin Erat pressured the Islanders and created a good scoring chance for Fiddler with a little over 1:00 gone. The teams traded chances throughout the period, and two power plays for the Isles helped tip the shots in their favor, 12-10, in the final frame. Vokoun stood tall with stops on quality chances by Alexei Yashin and Sean Bergenheim in the second half of the period, allowing Sullivan's second tally of the night to be the deciding factor at 16:43. The relatively harmless looking play developed as Walker sent the puck down low along the boards on the right side of New York's zone. Sullivan picked the puck up behind the Islanders net and cut toward the left face-off circle with a defender closely marking him. Suddenly, Sullivan blindly whipped a backhander toward the net and past Dubielewicz for the 2-1 lead.
"It was looking like it might end up in overtime," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "We put a lot of pucks there and Sully made the big play. That line really changed direction of the puck. Perreault got it to Walker, and Walker over to Sully. They made something happen. That's what those top guys do. Sully tonight was able to do that."
"It was a goal that I think the goalie cheated a little bit," Walker said. "You don't want to cheat on Sully, because he just has the patience and knows where to go and [where] to put it."
A minute later, Nashville was awarded a power play that effectively burned another two minutes off the game clock. Before the buzzer sounded, though, Vokoun was forced to make a shoulder save on an Alexei Zhitnik slapshot and Greg Johnson had to block another shot out of play to preserve the win.
"It was a pretty quiet night for me until the third period," Vokoun said. "But those are tough games too. It's a tie game and they're more tough mentally then physically. You don't know what the deciding moment of the game is going to be so you have to try and stay as focused as you can. When they come you have to be ready to stop the puck."
"We don't see very many teams from the East but we know that they're out of the playoff picture in the East, meaning that they've had their struggles," Sullivan said. "You've got to make sure you beat those teams. We didn't want to take them lightly. We didn't know exactly what to expect. We knew they have great, talented forwards. We thought if we worked their defense they'd be vulnerable. They hung around a lot longer than we expected."
Tomorrow night the Predators travel to Atlanta for the second of five games against Eastern Conference teams. The 6 p.m. game will be televised on FSN South and broadcast on 104.5 FM The Zone.
Walker's performance: Predators forward Scott Walker, playing in his first home game since Oct. 22, posted an assist on Steve Sullivan's game-winning goal. Sullivan thought Walker, playing in his second game after missing 33 with a sports hernia, looked much better than in his return in Chicago on Sunday: "I think he played a lot better tonight than his first game," Sullivan said. "He was a little bit more comfortable. He took a couple hits. He gave a few hits. He might have been 10 or 15 percent better last game, but he's 50 or 60 percent ready to go now. So hopefully a couple more games he'll be 100 percent."
Stevenson in, Tootoo out: Forward Jeremy Stevenson returned to the lineup against the Islanders and Jordin Tootoo was scratched, all rather unexpectedly after a fender-bender involving a few Predators occurred midday Tuesday. "There was an accident right after the morning skate," Trotz said following the game. "Danny Hamhuis, [Scott] Hartnell and Jordin Tootoo were going for a pregame meal and they were stopped at the corner on Broadway there, just in a line of traffic and they got rear-ended. Jordin sustained a little bit of a back spasm--you can say a whiplash type of a hit--so he's got a lot of back spasm.... He was trying to be able to play, but couldn't. We got Jeremy to jump in there."
Notes: With Tuesday's win, the Predators ended a two-game home losing streak and improved their record on Gaylord Entertainment Center ice to 17-5-0... Nashville is now 3-3-0 vs. the Eastern Conference... All three goals scored in Sunday's game were even-strength. The last time that happened this season was Dec. 8 against the New York Rangers. Nashville finished the game zero for four on the man advantage; New York finished zero for three... The Predators are now 14-7-2 when scoring first and 16-5 in one-goal games... Nashville allowed three power-play chances Sunday, for the second time in the last four games and for only the third time this season... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun is now 21-9-2 on the season and continues to rank among league leaders in wins... Paul Kariya and Vernon Fiddler assisted on Sullivan's first goal. Fiddler's assist was his second helper of the season (the previous one came on Nov. 29 vs. Calgary). Kariya's assist tied him with defenseman Kimmo Timonen for the team lead in that category... Yanic Perreault tied his season high for shots with six against the Islanders... Jordin Tootoo and Jamie Allison were scratches for Nashville Tuesday... Attendance at the Gaylord Entertainment Center was 11,511.
Watch the game highlights (:33)
Listen to head coach Barry Trotz' post-game press conference (6:03)
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