NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Steve Sullivan scored the tiebreaking goal on a breakaway with 1:46 left in the second period, and the Nashville Predators beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 Thursday night for their NHL-best sixth straight victory.
Columbus came in sixth in the Western Conference and two points ahead of the Predators. With the win, Nashville now has one more victory than the Blue Jackets and moved from eighth to the tie for sixth.
Vern Fiddler, Ryan Jones and Martin Erat also scored for Nashville, which has won 10 straight at home against Columbus.
Jason Williams and Rick Nash each scored for the Blue Jackets, who have not won in Nashville since April 3, 2006. Columbus played without center Antoine Vermette, its trade deadline pickup from Ottawa.
Nashville has the NHL's stingiest penalty kill on home ice, and the Predators killed off a 2-minute 5-on-3 in the first period where Columbus had a play reviewed and ruled as no goal. Nashville had a power-play goal wiped off in the period because Jordin Tootoo batted the puck into the net with his left hand.
But the Predators led 3-2 after a wild second period in which Columbus led 2-1 after Williams scored on a backhander past Pekka Rinne at 11:43, then Nash scored with a shot that appeared to hit off Nashville defenseman Greg Zanon's left leg at 14:05.
Nashville scored 23 goals in the previous four games, and the Predators answered again. Ryan Jones scored on a wrister at 15:39 to tie it at 2. Then Jason Arnott got the puck to Sullivan, who outskated a Columbus defender and put a backhander over Steve Mason's glove hand at 18:14.
Erat padded the lead when he tipped in a shot from Ryan Suter from the blue line at 4:24 of the third.
In this game featuring rookie goaltenders, Rinne kept Nashville in the game early and late as Columbus outshot the Predators 33-23.
One of his best saves came during the 5-on-3 after a rebound deflected out to Columbus center Jason Williams, and he shot just inside the post and was stopped by Rinne's stick. A review came with 6 seconds left in the 5-on-3 with the no-goal ruling upheld after a closer look. Nash also passed to Kristian Huselius in the slot, but Rinne stopped that shot at 13:23.
Notes: Columbus played its second game without center Michael Peca (jaw). ... Nashville now is 27-6-2 when scoring first. ... Erat's goal was the 100th of his career and his first since Feb. 5. ... The Predators now have gone nine straight games at home without allowing a power play goal.
Head Coach Barry Trotz
On the flow of the game…
We had a big penalty kill right off the bat. The 5-on-3 for two minutes, that can really go one way or the other. That really was huge for us. Give credit to the penalty killers – Smithson, Fiddler, Legwand – and the defense pairing on the back end; Pekka made a couple big saves as well. They sort of kept their momentum in the second after we’d score the first goal. We got a big goal there by Jones with Belak and the fourth line, then Sully got the timely goal. It was huge. Marty got a goal – we had some guys there that hadn’t scored in a while: Fiddler, Jones and Martin Erat. It was a really good effort.
On the game plan…
The game plan was really simple; we didn’t want to beat ourselves. The Columbus Blue Jackets, they are really structured, they really back up and force you to calculate your way through the neutral zone. We wanted to be really sure we didn’t give them any easy turnovers and I think we did a pretty got job of that. We also wanted to stay out of the penalty box – we didn’t do that early – but stay out of the penalty box and out-discipline them in some areas.
We feel they have a good young goaltender in Mason and we felt that we had to get to him and create a little more of scramble situation in front of him and then I thought if we shut down the Nash-Huselius group then you shut down a little bit of their offense. I thought we did a fairly good job but I though Huselius made a couple good plays off the rush that made them pretty dangerous. They are a really solid team, they don’t beat themselves.
On jumping up the standings so quickly…
I don’t know if it was quickly. We’ve been sort of hammering at it even before the All-Star break. The big key is that we are really taking it one game at a time and keeping it real. We realize that if we do – if we are persistent on the puck, if we are strong defensively, if we get some timely goals and if everybody is committed to the winning – that anything can happen. We’ve been staying in that sort of mode for awhile.
On Weber fighting so often…
Three in three games, I’d rather him not fight as much. But at the same time he is showing a lot of leadership, a lot of emotion and no one is taking advantage of our guys right now, that’s for sure.
Forward Steve Sullivan
On getting the game winning goal…
Any time you can hit the hockey puck and come in off and injury, that’s good. Our line has been rolling pretty good lately and we are going to have to continue. It is not going to get any easier from here on out, we just have to keep making sure we are working hard.
On the offensive explosion in the last few games…
This ranks up there in my career, we’ve gotten a lot of goals in a short span of time, especially with the luck we have had since Christmas, even before Christmas. This is exactly what we needed and hopefully we can keep the streak going by continuing to work hard. This is the time in the season when you want to get hot with 17 games left.
On moving in to sixth place in the West tonight…
Every night we want to try and get points. That is our goal every night. We have to play the guys a couple more times, its going to be a big difference. We have to make sure we keep playing these guys hard, it can have the tendency to swing either way. It is all beginning to pay off. I thought right after the All-Star break we would turn it around. We had a long break and everyone had a self-examination of what they needed to improve on. That is when everyone came back reenergized. We have had contributions from everyone, and everyone is helping out every single night.
Forward Vernon Fiddler
On a game plan coming into tonight’s game…
We wanted to get a lot of shots, and I don’t think that we did at the beginning of the game. In the second period I thought we got a lot more shots off of them. We had several rebound chances and that is where we had our scoring opportunities. That is where you have to go to score is rebounds.