COLUMBUS, Ohio – For a change, it was the Nashville Predators who were left to face the toughest questions after a game with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Steve Mason made 29 saves and Derick Brassard, Kristian Huselius and Fredrik Modin scored to lead the Blue Jackets over the Predators 3-2 on Tuesday night.
The Predators had gone 22-2-2 against the Blue Jackets since the start of the 2006-2007 season, including wins in the previous five meetings. Instead, they were frustrated after their fourth consecutive loss.
“We’ve got to get production from our top guys,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “If you’re a scorer you’ve got to score. You’ve just got to execute because right now we’re playing well but not well enough to win.”
The Blue Jackets, who had surrendered goals in the early minutes of their previous seven games, got off to a strong start in this one. They built a 3-0 lead with two third-period goals and then held on after Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist countered with goals for the Predators.
“Our goalie was the best player on the ice and we needed him today,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He can win games, like tonight, by himself.”
Mason, playing in his 100th NHL game, made several big stops down the stretch, including a save on Hornqvist’s redirect in the final minute. He also smothered an earlier shot by J.P. Dumont that would have tied it.
The Blue Jackets killed all four Nashville power plays, including two in the first period.
“We had a few huge blocks on our first couple of penalty kills,” said Mason, who has struggled this year after winning the Calder Trophy a year ago as the NHL’s top rookie. “I don’t know if they got a shot on their first two. Guys doing that early in the game make my job easier. It kind of sets the tone for us the rest of the game.”
With Columbus leading 1-0 heading into the third on Brassard’s seventh goal, Huselius tallied his 16th on a perfect power-play set-up from Rick Nash. Nash was on the right wing and slid the puck through the crease to Huselius, who was alone at the doorstep at the 8-minute mark.
Just 39 seconds later, the Blue Jackets made it 3-0 when Jan Hejda’s slap shot from the left point handcuffed Pekka Rinne, the puck floating behind him and sitting a few inches from the goal line as he sat sprawled on the ice. Modin was tussling with Jason Arnott at the goal mouth, with Modin finally able to punch the puck across the line after it sat unattended for two seconds.
“I was just looking to see if there was a rebound laying around there,” said Modin, who has scored only two goals in an injury-riddled season. “Somehow, the goalie, I don’t know if he sat down or laid down, but (the puck) kind of jumped out to the left of him, right in between the legs of one of their guys. I was just kind of charging it and made sure I got my stick on it.”
The third goal was particularly important, Trotz said.
“A two-goal lead is really big,” he said. “They scored and then they scored right again that shift. (If) we kept it to two, we still had a chance.”
Midway through the period, Erat narrowed the gap when he scored his 17th on a sharp wrister from the left circle that beat Mason high on the stick side. It tightened further when Hornqvist pounced on a rebound and scored his team-leading 21st goal with 4:24 remaining.
From there to the finish, the Blue Jackets were desperate to clear the puck and make the lead stand. With Modin blocking a shot by Kevin Klein and Mason smothering everything else, they had just enough.
Unlike so many times before when the teams have played, it was the Predators who were upset afterwards.
“Something has to be done – four in a row,” Nashville forward Steve Sullivan said. “We are starting to feel the heat now from behind us in the standings. We are not as comfortable now as we were a week a go. We have to find a way to get some wins.”
NOTES: Nashville C Marcel Goc (upper body) and RW Joel Ward (lower body) were scratched. … Columbus RW Jared Boll played in his 200th NHL game. … Mason improved to 46-37-13 in his career. … It was the fifth of six meetings this year, the Predators taking the first four. … Rinne had 14 saves. … Nashville’s four-game losing streak is its longest since a six-game skid in the first two weeks of the season.