COLUMBUS, Ohio – Nashville’s unlikeliest star is leading the way to the playoffs.
Dan Ellis shut out Columbus for the second time in four days, and the Predators mastered the Blue Jackets again with a 2-0 win on Friday night. “I feel great,” said Ellis, a rookie who spent last season with Iowa of the AHL. “Tonight I feel wonderful.”
Jan Hlavac and Radek Bonk scored on consecutive shots in the second period and Ellis made a career-high 43 saves.
“We got a couple of timely goals, and the second (period) we started taking over the momentum,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “We were able to capitalize on our chances. In the third, we probably gave up way too many chances, but I thought Elly was good.”
Nashville is 15-0-1 in its last 16 meetings with Columbus, matching the longest current points streak for one team against another. That’s 31 of a possible 32 points head-to-head the past two seasons.
“If you look back on it, we’re not able to finish (against Nashville),” Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We just don’t win the one-on-one battles in the offensive zone.”
Ellis, who had played one NHL game heading into this season, beat the Blue Jackets 3-0 on Tuesday night, stopping 36 shots.
“The last game was a little more difficult,” said Ellis, who has fought dehydration in recent games. “They just poured the pressure on the entire time. I got a little more fatigued early the last game, whereas this one I felt (the ice was) a little more spaced out. They still did a great job attacking the net and getting the pucks there, but I was just able to find pucks.”
The Predators moved into a tie with Vancouver with 86 points, but Nashville holds the edge for eighth place in the Western Conference because it has one more win than the Canucks. Both teams have four games remaining.
There had been bad blood brewing between the Blue Jackets and Predators after Nashville enforcer Jordin Tootoo tangled with two Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Twice on his way to the penalty box, Tootoo raised his arms and held up two fingers on each hand – signifying his name and number (22).
Seconds after Tootoo came on the ice to a chorus of boos Friday night, he fought with Columbus tough guy Jared Boll in a tussle that lasted a couple of minutes. After both landed a few punches, Boll muscled Tootoo to the ice and fell on top of him to loud roars.
That was about it for any Columbus cheering.
The Predators went up 2-0 early in the second period, then relied on Ellis.
Ryan Suter faked Nikolai Zherdev at the blue line and teed up a hard slap shot from the high slot that Hlavac redirected in at 4:26 for his 12th goal.
Just over a minute and a half later, Bonk took a drop pass from Martin Erat and skated to the top of the left circle before beating goalie Fredrik Norrena with a rising shot that slipped inside the far post for his 14th.
Bonk said Ellis has given the Predators a much-needed jolt.
“We’re very confident with him the last couple of games,” he said. “Over 40 shots and two shutouts – it’s just unbelievable.”
The Blue Jackets outshot Nashville 43-25 after holding a 36-24 edge Tuesday in Nashville.
Ellis faced a lot of shots but not a lot of strong scoring chances. The best came midway through the third period when Zherdev fed Ron Hainsey for a point-blank, one-timer in the slot that Ellis smothered. He also stopped Aaron Rome on a similar shot with 5 1/2 minutes left.
“I hope it’s not a peak, that there’s still higher to go,” Ellis said. “I just want to try to help this team to get into the playoffs. All we can do is control the games we have ahead of us. We have four more games and we have to win more than Vancouver does. and we’ll get ourselves a spot in the playoffs.”
Notes: It was the first of a three-game road trip for the Predators that will take them to Detroit and St. Louis. … Columbus needs another win to tie the franchise record of 35. … Nashville moved to 17-17-4 on the road. … The Blue Jackets have outshot opponents in nine of 13 games, but won only three when they held the edge.