DENVER - With the possibility of a division championship at stake, the Nashville Predators weren’t about to take any chances with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Predators also are seeking their sixth playoff berth in seven years and took a step in that direction Thursday night with a 3-2 win at the Pepsi Center.
The victory pulled the sixth-place Predators within four points (98-94) of the Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings, whom they meet Saturday at Bridgestone Arena.
"We still have to keep winning," said goalie Pekka Rinne, who finished with 27 saves for his 31st win. "It’s been an amazing season in how tight it’s been, but it’s so exciting. You feel sharp and you feel fresh all the time because there’s so much on the table."
The Red Wings own the upper hand because they have four more non-shootout wins (40-36) in case of a tiebreaker and have five games remaining, one more than the Predators. But the Predators have won four of the five games against the Wings this season,
"We always get excited for Detroit," coach Barry Trotz said. "But I’m just looking at (securing) a playoff spot. The Red Wings seem to bring the best out of us and our fans, so I’m not too worried about getting up for the Red Wings."
Detroit is coming off a 10-3 loss to St. Louis, prompting Trotz to say: "They’re not going to be a happy crew. (Coach) Mike (Babcock) will have them ready. They’ll bring their ‘A’ game."
The Predators did just that for two periods Thursday when they outshot the Avalanche 30-14 and built a 2-0 lead on goals by Colin Wilson and Jordin Tootoo.
Martin Erat scored what proved to be the winner when he weaved through the Avalanche defense to score a power-play goal at 12:52 of the third period for a seemingly comfortable 3-1 lead with the Avalanche’s Cody McLeod in the penalty box for roughing.
"The game-winning goal is off a penalty in the offensive zone," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "It’s been too many of those lately. That's just not acceptable. It comes back to bite us."
The Avs, who has gone 3-22-2 since Jan. 26, made the Predators sweat with a late rally. Paul Stastny converted Milan Hejduk’s pass with 6:25 remaining and David Jones deflected in John-Michael Liles’ shot with 1:02 to play.
"That’s been a trend lately. We haven’t played well in the third period as of late," Rinne said. "It’s a huge two points. We managed still at the end to get the win. Even though they came close, we made a few good plays at the end there and we deserved that win."
Said Erat: "We played a good first two periods and then we let it slide a little in the last six minutes. It’s so important, those points for us, and we can’t let it go like this."
Wilson opened the scoring at 15:35 of the first period with his first goal in seven games and 16th of the season. Blake Geoffrion kept the puck in the Avalanche end and Matt Halischuk whipped a no-look pass from the right corner to Wilson cutting to the net for a quick shot that beat goalie Brian Elliott.
Tootoo made it 2-0 at 10:20 of the second period when he deflected Cody Franson’s shot from the blue line into the net.
"I think we played probably 20 good minutes," Avalanche center Matt Duchene said. "The first 10 and the last 10, so you’re not going to win like that. The second (period) was awful, the end of the first was OK and in the third. You have to string the better part of 60 minutes to win games."
Tootoo fell awkwardly into the boards after a hit by Liles with three minutes remaining in the second period and didn’t return, but Trotz didn’t think the injury was too serious.
"I think he’s going to be OK," Trotz said. "He sort of got winded and probably banged his back a little bit and maybe his head, so we kept him out."
The Predators outscored the Avalanche 17-8 in sweeping the four-game season series from Colorado for the first time.
1 - 0 NSH
2 - 0 NSH
3 - 0 NSH
3 - 1 NSH