The Nashville Predators out-chanced and outshot the Toronto Maple Leafs all night long, but Leaf goalie Vesa Toskala put together a masterful, 34-save performance to prevent the Preds from taking all three games of an Eastern Canada road trip that started last Thursday in Ottawa. The Leafs scored one goal in the opening minutes of each period to defeat Nashville, 3-1, at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.
Nashville outshot its opponent for eighth time in nine outings, 35-15, but was unable to get on the board until the 55th minute of regulation. Neither team scored on one of their multiple power-play opportunities – Nashville finished 0-for-5, while Toronto went 0-for-4.
Toronto got on the board just 28 seconds into the contest on Nik Antropov’s 11th goal of the season. The marker came when a Hal Gill point shot deflected off a Predator defenseman in front and directly onto the stick of Antropov, who had a wide open net to shoot at from the doorstep.
Despite giving up the early goal, the Preds quickly settled into the game’s up-and-down pace, and outshot the Leafs for the period, 7-5. Both teams stuck to its guns defensively, and it made scoring chances at a premium. Neither team converted on two first-period power play attempts, though nearly half the frame’s shots on goal came while one team was skating a man down.
Toronto came out firing in the second period, and scored just 1:33 in on its second shot of the frame. The goal was again a product of an uncovered Leaf in front of the net, as this time Matt Stajan harnessed a bouncing puck and swatted it over Preds goalie Chris Mason’s left shoulder.
David Legwand attempts to beat goalie Vesa Toskala from just outside the crease.
Nashville began to straighten out its game after falling behind 2-0, and really picked up the pressure five minutes into the period, beginning with the upstart line of Jed Ortmeyer, Radek Bonk and Martin Gelinas. The Preds outshot the home team 7-0 over the next five minutes, producing several scoring chances – including a wide-open shot from right in front by Jason Arnott at 9:58 – in addition to earning their fourth power play of the contest at 7:33.
Arnott put 12 shots on Toskala in the game, a new franchise record for shots on goal by an individual.
Momentum tilted back toward Toronto in the middle part of period, after back-to-back penalties put the Predators down a man for four minutes of a 4:06 span. But the penalty killers, who have not allowed a goal in four straight contests, performed admirably under pressure. Following the kills, Nashville intensified its attack, but still couldn’t beat Toskala despite their best efforts, putting 14 more shots on him in the middle 20 minutes.
Another quick start to a period ultimately doomed the Predators, as a fluky bounce gave Wade Belak his first goal in 143 games and his team a commanding 3-0 lead at 2:48 of the third. Similar to the first goal of the game, Belak was simply at the right place at the right time when a shot deflected of a Nashville defender and right onto his stick.
Nashville continued to generate prime scoring chances from all over the zone, but Toskala was on top of his game. Some of the Finnish goaltender’s best saves came midway through the third on another point-blank try by Arnott that left him laughing in disbelief and moments later on a two-on-one chance.
Captain Jason Arnott bears down on Darcy Tucker as they battle for a puck in the corner.
It took a deflection off one of his defender’s sticks to finally beat the Leaf goalie at 14:05. Shea Weber scored the Preds first and only goal of the game when he fired a harmless wrist shot from just inside the blue line that ricocheted off Tomas Kaberle’s blade and over Toskala’s blocker. The unassisted marker was Weber’s first goal and fourth point since returning from a knee injury seven games ago.
Nashville showed some life after trimming the deficit back to two goals, but it proved to be too little, too late.
The Predators are now done with the Eastern Conference for the next 25 games - their next inter-conference matchup comes Jan. 29 at Boston. The 25-game stretch against Western foes starts on Thursday, when they welcome the Vancouver Canucks to the Sommet Center for the first of four straight home games. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m., and tickets are still available by calling (615) 770-PUCK, logging on to ticketmaster.com or nashvillepredators.com, and by visiting the Sommet Center Box Office located in the arena tower.
Game Notes: Nashville scratched Kevin Klein, Vernon Fiddler and Scott Nichol from the lineup, while Toronto sat Jiri Tlusty, John Pohl and Bates Battaglia…. Darcy Hordichuk was in the Predator lineup for just the second time since Oct. 27, while Nashville dressed seven defensemen for the first time all year… Nashville is now 6-2-1 in its last nine road contests and 11-4-2 since Oct. 25… The Predators are 4-1-0 against the Eastern Conference this season, and 5-3-1 all-time vs. Toronto… Dan Hamhuis doled out a game-high five hits and fellow blueliner Shea Weber posted a game-high four blocked shots… Marek Zidlicky led all Preds in ice time (23:47)… Jason Arnott was the best Nashville centerman in the face-off circle, winning 11 of 15 draws (73%)… Tonight was the first time a Predators game has been decided by more than one goal since Nov. 12 vs. Columbus, a span of eight games.