By Amanda DiPaolo
Nashville took care of business on Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena when they doubled the Atlanta Thrashers 6-3. Sergei Kostitsyn and Jordin Tootoo each picked up two goals and Pekka Rinne made 33 saves.
The Predators jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
Matt Halischuk got Nashville on the board just 5:24 into the game. Jerred Smithson took a hit at the blue line, but was able to complete his pass to Tootoo who shot the puck, but it was deflected and bounced over to Halischuk who was standing in the slot. With his back to Thrashers goalie Chris Mason, Halischuk was able to backhand a bouncing puck past the former Predator’s netminder.
Nashville added to its lead by picking up two goals in the final minute of play in the first period. With 41.9 seconds remaining on the clock, Marty Erat took a shot on goal. Mason made the initial stop but the rebound sat in the crease. Thrashers center Nik Antropov tried to clear the puck but knocked it in the net. Jordin Tootoo was able to get his tick on the puck before it crossed the line. It was Tootoo’s seventh goal of the season. Erat and Jon Blum picked up the assists.
Sergei Kostitsyn extended his points streak to a career high 10 games with his 21st goal of the season to end the period with just 2.2 seconds left. Patric Hornqvist, standing behind the net, got the puck to Kostitsyn, who was waiting at the left side of the net. Kostitsyn’s shot went high, stick side on Mason.
The Predators started the second period right where the first period left off, adding to their lead. At 1:56 into the middle frame Jordin Tootoo was credited with his second goal of the game when the puck went through the pads of Mason off of Tootoo’s leg. Halischuk picked up an assist on the play.
It was Tootoo’s first career three-point game.
“He gave us great energy,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said about Tootoo’s play, adding, “A, he was hard on the puck; B, he was going to the net real quick and had really good jump. All three of them did — Halischuk had lots of jump; Smithson had lots of jump. That line had lots of juice tonight, which was good.”
Chris Mason was relieved of his netminding duties as Ondrej Pavelec took over in goal for Atlanta.
While the second period featured five penalties, shots were limited as the Predators outshot the Thrashers 7-5.
The third period was no different from the first two as Nashville again picked up an early goal. Kostitsyn scored his second goal of the game at 2:28 to make it 5-0 Predators. Kostitsyn tipped in Franson’s shot from the point into an empty net, with Pavelec out of position anticipating the Franson shot. Hornqvist picked up the other assist.
The Thrashers broke Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne’s bid for a shutout 38 seconds later. Blake Wheeler scored his 17th of the season on a shot that beat Rinne high glove side.
While the Thrashers would cut the Predators lead in half on Wheeler’s second of the game as well as Antropov’s 16th of the season, Mike Fisher would give the Predators six goals on the night when he scored 6:18 into the third period. Fisher’s goal was a power play marker, his 19th of the season.
The Thrashers final two goals came less than a minute apart at 16:25 and 17:10 of the third period.
Nashville now has 97 points on the season with two games remaining. The win puts the Predators in fourth spot in the Western Conference. Because Dallas also won on Tuesday night, the Predators still have not officially clinched a playoff berth. The next opportunity for the Predators to clinch is on Thursday night when Dallas plays Colorado. Any loss for the Stars, in regulation or in overtime, would guarantee a trip to the postseason for the Predators.
If Dallas wins in regulation on Thursday, the Predators will look to win on home ice Friday night when they host Columbus in the regular season home finale.
“Friday night is going to be a big test for us,” forward Jordin Tootoo said, “We need points. We want to win out the season here, and, obviously, be as high as we can in the standings.”
Photo credit: AP
Follow Predlines on Twitter @Predlines