Pekka Rinne's hot goaltending and a productive offense continue to be the story in Nashville, as the Predators closed out a perfect five-game homestand with a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Over those games Nashville outscored their opponents 27-11, and with tonight's win they climb into 6th position in the Western Confernece with 70 points (33-28-4).
The first period saw the Blue Jackets outshoot the Preds 13-6, but Nashville certainly had their share of good scoring chances, particularly by the top line of Steve Sullivan, Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont. The goaltenders at both ends were sharp, as Steve Mason and Rinne faced off in what is essentially the Battle for the Calder, since the two rookie goaltenders are the prime contenders for the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year. The Nashville penalty killers also did a fine job, killing off a full two minutes of 5-on-3 advantage for Columbus (which, admittedly, has the worst power play in the league).
Instead of relying mostly on that top line for goals, however, tonight's win was more of a team effort for Nashville. The supporting line of Jordin Tootoo, Vern Fiddler and Antti Pihlstrom opened the scoring with a simple faceoff win in the Columbus end, followed by a quick shot and a backhander on the rebound by Fiddler to put the Preds up 1-0 in the second period.
Columbus battled back to take a 2-1 lead within just a few minutes, but the hard-working Preds kept creating, and then benefited from, loose pucks and turnovers in the Blue Jackets zone. A heavy hit on the forecheck by Wade Belak created just such a chance for Ryan Jones, who put an initial shot on net, then saw the rebound go off one of the Columbus defenders into the net to tie the score at 2-2.
The real highlight came late in the period, when Jason Arnott hit a streaking Steve Sullivan with a breakaway pass through center ice. Sully, continuing his torrid pace of late, gave a fake to the forehand before roofing a backhander over Mason's glove to give Nashville the 3-2 lead. He now has 7 goals and 5 assists in the last 8 games.
The Preds added one more goal in the 3rd as Martin Erat tipped a Ryan Suter wrister to push the lead to 4-2, and from there on in it was up to Rinne to keep Columbus from making a comeback. The Finnish rookie ended up with 31 saves on 33 shots, lifting the team to 6th place in the Western Conference as they had to Philadelphia for a game on Saturday.
NOTES: Jordin Tootoo went hard into the boards feet-first in the 3rd period and immediately clutched his knee in pain, but he returned for two more shifts later on. Shea Weber extended his fighting streak to 3 games, tangling with R.J. Umberger in a spirited bout behind the Nashville net.