NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Nashville Predators are learning
just how important every game is in their first true playoff race.
Dan Hamhuis and Steve Sullivan each scored early power-play
goals, and Tomas Vokoun stopped 27 shots Thursday night to lead the
Nashville Predators over the Minnesota Wild 4-0. They entered the
game ranked eighth in the Western Conference despite having won
three of the previous four games.
"We won three in a row and lost one, and I looked at the
standings and all of a sudden we were in eighth," Vokoun said.
"Every game is huge."
Sullivan said: "When you're in a playoff race, you can't afford
to lose two games in a row."
The victory pushed the Predators into a tie for fifth with
Dallas, which had the night off. Vladimir Orszagh added a goal and
an assist, Andreas Johansson had a short-handed goal and Martin
Erat had two assists for Nashville, which won the season series
with the Wild 2-0-2.
Coach Barry Trotz said he talked with his Predators about
putting some distance between themselves and a team that reached
the conference finals last season. Minnesota now trails Nashville
by 11 points with 19 games left.
"You can never say never mathematically, but if we just
continue to play good hockey and win our share of games, and I
think that might have been enough separation to keep the Wild out
of there," Trotz said.
Vokoun got the 12th shutout of his career, and it was his second
this season against a Minnesota team that has not scored against
the Predators in Nashville since March 6, 2003. The Wild outshot
Nashville 27-23, but went 0-for-7 on the power play.
"I felt confident they weren't going to get a pea by him
tonight," Trotz said.
Hamhuis got Nashville on the board with his fifth goal of the
season with a slap shot that went through Manny Fernandez's legs at
9:20 of the first.
"As soon as they got the first goal, they were flying,"
Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Minnesota defenseman Willie Mitchell had his chance to tie it
late in the first period as he took a pass for a breakaway coming
out of the penalty box. But he missed the net with a backhander.
Sullivan padded Nashville's lead with his 21st goal and sixth in
five games since being picked up in a trade from Chicago. Scott
Walker passed to Sullivan at the left post, and he hit at it three
times before pushing it past Fernandez late in the second period.
Nashville now has nine power-play goals since Sullivan joined
the team, and a franchise record 35 at home.
"They are on a roll," Mitchell said of the Predators.
"They've got some life. They've got some new players that have
injected some life into them."
Fernandez started in goal for Dwayne Roloson, who was in Ontario
for his father's funeral. Fernandez is winless in 11 starts since
Dec. 13, and this was only his third appearance in the past 15
Orszagh made it 3-0 just 59 seconds into the third period as he
scored his 15th goal, and Johansson added his 12th off a breakaway
in which his backhander skipped off Fernandez into the net.
Sullivan nearly had another goal, but his breakaway was waved
off and he was sent to the penalty box for a questionable hooking
call. That gave Minnesota its best chance to avoid the shutout with
a five-on-three, but Sergei Zholtok had a shot go off the net left
of the post.
Nashville is 23-1-3-1 when leading after two periods this
season. ... D Stan Neckar made his debut with the Predators. He had
been sidelined by a groin injury after being signed as a free agent
in November. ... Only Detroit has more short-handed goals (15) than
Nashville's 13. ... Several streaks ended for the Wild, including
Alexandre Daigle, who had five assists in the previous three games.
Marian Gaborik had five points in the same stretch.