NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Nashville Predators are playing so well that even players like Nick Spaling are scoring.
Spaling helped the Predators finish off their sixth straight win by doubling his goals for the season with two quick scores in the third period. And Nashville coach Barry Trotz knows how his Predators would have celebrated if Spaling had somehow managed a hat trick in Tuesday night's 5-1 win over Minnesota.
"I think we would've left the bench and took the two-minute penalty," Trotz said.
Joel Ward had a goal and an assist while Spaling helped the Predators blow open the game by scoring two of Nashville's three goals in the third. Marcel Goc also added an unassisted goal in the period. David Legwand also had a goal. Goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped 25 shots.
Nashville center Jerred Smithson said Spaling does a lot of things that don't noticed except in the locker room. Spaling came in with only two goals in 33 games this season.
"It was nice for him tonight to bury a couple and maybe get some confidence. We've got some big road games coming up here, and we'll build off those," Smithson said.
The Predators scored so fast in the third they chased Jose Theodore after Spaling's second goal at 10:39 of the third. Theodore had been the NHL's third star after going 3-1 with a .946 save percentage last week.
Minnesota coach Todd Richards said he thought the difference was goaltending, especially on the first two goals allowed.
"Those were the ones he was gobbling up," Richards said of Theodore. "We went all last week, and he had about 100 of those that either hit him, or he caught it and the play was done."
Mikko Koivu scored a goal for Minnesota, which now has lost two straight after a four-game winning streak of its own. The Wild also lost on the road in regulation for the first time since a 6-2 loss Dec. 12 at Anaheim.
These teams split the first two games in Minnesota, but the Predators got this streak going Dec. 31 with a 4-1 win over the Wild and just kept going Tuesday night in their first home game since completing a three-game sweep in California on Saturday night.
Legwand put Nashville up 1-0 tipping in a shot from Marek Svatos on a give-and-go in front of Jose Theodore at 7:03 of the first period. It was just Legwand's fourth goal this season, making the crowd of 15,311 very happy on a cold night with icy roads still such a problem that local schools won't open Wednesday.
The Wild tied it up, scoring on a breakaway just as a Nashville power play ended. Koivu scored his 11th this season with a backhander off an assist from John Madden at 16:05.
Ward put Nashville ahead to stay at 2-1 just 62 seconds into the second period. Theodore had just stopped a shot when Ward backhanded the puck underneath the goalie's outstretched glove for his fifth this season off an assist from Kevin Klein.
"It's all about momentum and confidence," Ward said. "We're just playing with a lot of confidence. We know we had a good trip, but we won't dwell on that. We just think about what's going on right now, and we take it period by period. We're kind of staying focused within ourselves and the task at hand. Tonight was a good game for us and good execution."
Theodore said he made a couple of mistakes that turned into goals, especially on Ward's shot.
"It was a bad rebound, and I tried to clear it right to their guy. Those are the kind of plays I can't make," Theodore said.
The Wild have been the league's fourth-best with the man advantage on the road this season, and they had two power plays later in the second to tie it up. But Nashville is the NHL's best at killing penalties at home, and the Wild went 0-for-3 with the advantage.
Rinne helped killed the two in the second off almost back to back, including gloving a slap shot from Matt Cullen at the blue line with another nice stop on Kyle Brodziak in front.
"That was the momentum change right there," Rinne said.
Spaling padded the margin at 4:28 of the third, scoring his third with a wrister from near the boards through traffic that beat Theodore gloveside. But when Spaling scored off a rebound on captain Shea Weber's shot, pushing the puck in at the post, that was enough for Theodore to head to the bench.
He was replaced by Anton Khubodin with Niklas Backstrom scratched with his hip injury. Goc beat him with a wrister from the edge of the right circle at 12:53.
Notes: Koivu now has eight points in his last nine games against Nashville with 3 goals and 5 assists. ... Nashville improved to 15-1-4 when scoring first. ... Weber, named to the All-Star roster earlier Tuesday, now has a point (2 goals, 8 assists) in each of the six weeks for a career high. Nashville is 11-1-1 when he has a point. ... Nashville F Sergei Kostitsyn snapped a streak in which he had scored a goal in five straight games.
Head Coach Barry Trotz
On the play of the Spaling-Smithson-Ward line…
Obviously, we’re getting lots of guys contributing. Tonight the Smithson line was huge. They not only shut down the lines they played against – some pretty good offensive lines – they contributed offensively. That’s discouraging when your offensive lines are getting scored on by the shutdown line. That was huge for us. They had a pretty big effect on the game today.
On the emergence of Nick Spaling…
I’m not surprised at all, really. Smithson and Ward played together with Legwand last year. I try to keep some pairs together all the time – I try to find two guys, and then try to find a third guy. Spaling can fix every line. He’s a really solid young player. He understands the game. He’s got lots of push and determination in his game. He’s got good instincts. The one thing that we were hoping was that he’d find his scoring touch, and he’s starting to do that. He’s going to the hard areas – they were like wolverines in the crease on that last goal they scored. Every time he plays a game, you always see him do something that’s very mature, very experienced-looking. He’s a really solid player, and the guys love him. I think if he’d have scored a third goal there in the last minute – if he’d have gotten a hat trick – we’d have left the benches and taken the two-minute penalty.
On Spaling’s recent offensive production after scoring his first goal on Dec. 13…
It’s just a little bit of a mental block. Once you crack the shell, good things happen.
That’s how you score goals now. There’s not too many pretty plays, unless it’s off a cycle, or maybe off a rush. You’ve just got to go to the meat-and-potato areas, and get guys in front of the net. Ward got a goal like that, Spaling got a goal like that – those are good goals. You look at Legwand’s first goal, driving through the middle, Svatos hit him with a pass and he just redirected it. If you go to the net, go to the blue paint, you’re going to get rewarded. If you stay to the outside, you’re not going to score.
On Pekka Rinne’s recent play…
He’s got a good rhythm, in terms of the number of games. If we want to get him a little break, we can throw Lindback in there, and he does a really good job. We’re winning because we’re going to the hard areas, because we’re going to the net – and that’s getting some goals – and checking really well, getting good penalty killing, and getting the big saves when they’re needed. All those combined, that’s how we’re getting it done.
On Legwand’s recent goals…
Legwand has to go in that role with Lombardi and O’Reilly out. We need production from Legwand. He’s starting to score, which is good because we expect that out of him. He’s getting a little bit of chemistry with Wilson and Svatos – they’re a pretty good line, a good two-way line, and I think Goc’s is a good two-way line, and Smithson’s is a good two-way line. If we get a couple more bodies then we’ll have four pretty good lines.
Forward Joel Ward
On chemistry tonight…
It was good to get out there, and, obviously, anytime you get a goal you kind of get a little bit of extra energy. It was good to see Spals (Nick Spaling) get out there after he missed the last game. It was good for him to get out there and just kind of contribute and help us out.
On ease of things after win…
It’s all just about momentum and confidence. We’re just playing with a lot of confidence, and we know we had a good trip. But we won’t dwell on that. We just kind of think about what’s going on right now and take it period by period. We’ve just been staying focused within ourselves and the task at hand, and tonight was a good game for us and good execution.
Forward Jerred Smithson
On Spaling and his goals…
He’s worked so hard here, and he does a lot of things that don’t really get noticed. We notice them in the locker room, but on the score sheet you really don’t notice it. It was nice tonight for him to bury a couple and maybe get some confidence. We’ve got some big road games coming up here, and we’ll build off those.