Nashville Predators 0, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
Rinne stops 35 shots in tough-luck loss
NASHVILLE -- Columbus Blue Jackets center Artem Anisimov was making small talk after the morning skate about how his pregnant wife is due with the couple's first child any day. As soon as she texts him that she's going into labor, he's getting on a plane and flying home.
With one game left on a three-game road trip, the Blue Jackets might not want to let him leave.
Columbus has won four out of its past five games, including a 1-0 victory against the Nashville Predators on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena. Anisimov has scored the game-winning goal in each.
"Really since coming back from the Olympic break, his game has been very good," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said of the Russian Olympian. "He's a trustworthy player, smart player. So, defensive roles, penalty kill, but what we're seeing now is that offensive side of him, and we know he's a talented kid, passer, shooter.
"He's scoring some huge goals for us."
Anisimov's goal Saturday was his sixth in the past six games and 19th of the season, a career high. Anisimov, who declined to speak with reporters after the game, had scored a goal in four straight games, a streak that was snapped in a 6-1 loss Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Columbus broke the scoreless tie Saturday with 6:25 left. Anisimov led a 3-on-2 rush, dropped the puck for defenseman James Wisniewski, and headed to the net. Anisimov got the puck back and stuffed it around 6-foot-5 Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
"Give him the puck, let him do his thing," Wisniewski said. "He's got great hands, so for him to be able to go from forehand all the way to backhand, even a big goalie like Pekka, is hard to get post-to-post like that."
Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky made 28 saves in his first shutout since Jan. 10, his third of the season. With 28.8 seconds left and Rinne pulled for an extra attacker, Bobrovsky, coming from the far post, robbed Colin Wilson as he attempted to stuff the puck at the goalmouth. Wilson, who has not scored in 24 games, had the net open to the near side but instead shot at an angle into Bobrovsky, who gloved it just before the goal line.
Two of the NHL's best goaltenders were on top of their game. Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, stopped 18 shots through two periods, and Rinne, a Vezina finalist in 2011 and 2012, stopped 20, 35 total.
Rinne, playing his third straight game after returning from a hip infection, had to be at his best when Viktor Stalberg took a double-minor penalty for high-sticking RJ Umberger at 6:55 of the second period. One of Rinne's best saves came on a slap shot by Boone Jenner that Rinne got a piece of with his blocker.
"[Rinne] is a great goaltender," said Richards, who worked as an assistant with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League when Rinne played for that team. "And it was one of those where our goalie was great in the first and then we started to take over the game and their goalie needed to be good in the second and the third and he was.
"It was one of those games where you're wondering, 'Is anyone going to be able to beat either one of these guys?'"
The penalty on Stalberg helped turn the momentum of the game, the coaches said. Nashville had four shots in the second period to Columbus' 15; the Predators then had two through the first 10 minutes of the third.
Nashville's Barry Trotz said as a result of that penalty Columbus "ground [us] down a bit."
Nashville, which did not have more than 21 shots on goal in either of its past two games, had 14 in the first period. The Predators did not connect on their lone power-play chance, continuing a streak of futility to 15 straight with the man-advantage over the past four games.
One of the best scoring chances of the first period came with 5:43 left when Columbus center Ryan Johansen, the Blue Jackets' leader in goals with 25, broke in on a 2-on-1. Rinne knocked down Johansen's wrist shot with his glove.
Columbus (33-26-5) began the day two points out of the final Stanley Cup Playoff wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Blue Jackets were playing without three injured regular defensemen: Fedor Tyutin (ankle), Nikita Nikitin (upper body), and rookie Ryan Murray (knee), who will miss at least the remainder of the regular season.
"I thought the guys were great tonight," said Richards, who shuffled his lineup somewhat, scratching wings Cam Atkinson and Matt Frattin.
The coach opted for more physical players, Blake Comeau and Corey Tropp, and the change appeared to work. Tropp had a second-period fight with Nashville's Eric Nystrom.
The Predators (26-28-10) are 1-5-2 in their past eight and have lost four straight in regulation. Nashville had one goal in each of its past three games.
"We're not scoring goals," Trotz said. "You can look individually up front, we've got some guys who have been pretty dry, point-wise and goal-wise."