The Nashville Predators surrendered three third-period goals, including the game winner with just 1:08 left in regulation to fall to the Minnesota Wild in heartbreaking fashion, 3-2, on Tuesday night at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Predators used a first-period goal by Jason Arnott and a second-period marker by J.P. Dumont to take a two-goal lead into the final frame, but ultimately dropped their first decision of 2007-08 when leading after 40 minutes.
Preds goaltender Dan Ellis, making his first appearance in three games, was outstanding for the visitors all night, keeping the Predators in the game with 28 stops, many of them quality scoring chances. But, Josh Harding was his equal at the opposite end of the rink, turning aside 30 shots for his third straight win.
Neither team mustered much offense in the opening minutes of the contest – only three total shots in the first 7:30 – but pace was quick nonetheless. Nashville took about eight minutes to create any sustained pressure, but made short work, scoring the first goal of the game for the first time in four outings at 8:49.
A lengthy cycle low in the zone by the upstart line of Martin Erat, Arnott and Jordin Tootoo gave Ryan Suter some time and space to operate when the puck came to his stick at the top of the point. Suter sent a wrist shot into traffic in front that Arnott tipped past Harding for his first marker in 10 games.
The goal also moved Arnott into a tie with Erat for second on the Predators in goals with nine.
After 20 minutes, Nashville held a 1-0 lead thanks in large part to responsible play in their own zone. Minnesota attackers were pushed to the outside and Preds defenders did a solid job getting sticks and bodies into passing and shooting lanes. Despite the lead and the good defensive play, the Predators were outshot by the Wild by a 10-8 margin.
Ellis was on top of his game in the first, and picked up where he left off in the middle frame. On the other end of the rink, the Predators continued to apply pressure. Arnott nearly got his second of the game at 3:14 but struck the crossbar with a rocket from the right face-off circle. Two minutes and change later, Ellis stoned Eric Belanger on a point-blank opportunity from his position cutting down the right side.
Jason Arnott celebrates his first marker in 10 games, which came when he redirected a Ryan Suter point shot at 8:49 of the first period.
Nashville bided its time, and used a power play midway through the second to take a two-goal lead, just its second man-advantage marker in the last 32 tries. The tally was again the product of a wrist shot that found its way on net. This time Erat started the play by snapping the puck from the edge of the right face-off circle after a quick game of give-and-go down low with Arnott. Dumont was uncovered, in perfect position on the doorstep, and poked the second chance through Harding’s legs for his eighth goal of the season at 11:25.
In his return to the lineup after missing a pair of games due to injury, Erat used the helper to add to his team-leading point total (26). Arnott’s secondary assist polished off his seventh multiple point game of the year.
The Predators penalty kill has been lights out of late, and Tuesday night was no exception – it killed all five chances it faced. The unit killed its third Wild power play at the end of the second and beginning of the third, but just one second after that man advantage expired, Minnesota cashed in thanks to the Slovakian tandem of Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra. Forty-one ticks into the third period, Demitra snuck one across the top of the crease to Gaborik on the back door, and the Wild’s leading scorer cashed with his 13th marker of the season.
Pace quickened following the goal that cut Nashville’s lead in half, with both teams creating prime scoring chances – Vernon Fiddler hit a post at 3:56, and Mark Parrish answered that by striking the crossbar at 4:20.
What makes Minnesota lethal is its quick counter attacks, and it used one of those to knot the game at two apiece with 6:54 expired in the final period of regulation. In on a two-on-one rush, Belanger looked off his partner, and rifled a slap shot past Ellis high glove side.
The up-and-down action went virtually uninterrupted for the next 12 minutes, with both netminders being forced to make clutch saves for their teams to keep the score tied. With so many close calls, someone was bound to break through and play hero in regulation, and Brian Rolston was that man for the Wild, scoring on a rebound at 18:52.
A high shot on goal sails past goalie Josh Harding, and under the eyes of Vernon Fiddler (38), David Legwand, and the Nick Schultz in the first period.
An initial shot from the slot by Belanger was denied by Ellis, but Rolston outmuscled a pair of defenders in front to roof the rebound home. Brent Burns started the play with a slap pass from the point, collecting his second assist of the contest.
Nashville pulled its goalie for an extra attacker in the final minute, but failed to get a shot on net.
The Wild scored the three goals despite the Predators outshooting it 16-11 in the third, and 32-31 for the game. Nashville finished 1-for-5 on the power play, and with the 5-for-5 performance on the penalty kill it hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in five games.
The Predators now immediately head southwest to Chicago, where they will wrap up this three-game, five-day road trip with a 7:30 p.m. contest against the Blackhawks on Wednesday night (Dec. 19). All the action between the Preds and Hawks can be caught on FSN South and WGFX-104.5 The Zone.
Game Notes: Earlier today the Predators reassigned forward Antti Pihlstrom to Milwaukee of the AHL… Nashville scratched Kevin Klein, Darcy Hordichuk and Ville Koistinen from the lineup, while Minnesota sat Todd Fedoruk, Derek Boogaard and Kurtis Foster… Jordin Tootoo played in his 200th career contest against the Wild… Nashville is 1-2-0 on the front end of games on back-to-back nights… The penalty kill has thwarted 34 of the last 35 chances against… The all-time series between these two teams is now tied at 10-10-6… The Predators have outshot opponents by 110 shots in the last 15 games… The Predators are now 11-2-1 when scoring first and 9-1-0 when leading after 40 minutes… Dan Hamhuis led all Predators in ice time (20:53), and Martin Erat (20:23), Ryan Suter (20:12) and Greg Zanon (20:03) all logged 20-plus minutes…Marek Zidlicky, Zanon, Shea Weber and Greg de Vries all blocked three shots… These teams clash for the third time this season on Jan. 5 at the Sommet Center.
1 - 0 NSH
2 - 0 NSH
2 - 1 NSH
2 - 2 Tie