NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Now that Nashville’s forwards are all healthy again, they are starting to show just how dangerous they can be.
Martin Erat scored two goals and Pekka Rinne made 38 saves to lead the Predators to a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
Nashville, which has won five of seven, sent Toronto to its fifth loss in six games.
Ryan Suter and Matt Halischuk scored the other Nashville goals. John-Michael Liles had the only goal for Toronto.
Sergei Kostitsyn had three assists, tying his career high for assists and points in a game.
“We are playing much better than before,” Kostitsyn said of himself and linemates Erat and Mike Fisher, who have all missed time this season because of injuries. “We have all come back from injury and needed a couple of games to get better.”
Erat gave the Predators a 1-0 lead just 5:48 in with his fourth goal in four games.
From the goal-line just to the right of the Toronto net, Fisher sent the puck toward goalie Ben Scrivens. Erat got the puck and beat Scrivens with a wrist shot to the short side.
“I was happy with the effort in front of me,” Scrivens said. “I thought the guys played a great game, maybe I just got outduelled.”
Liles tied it at 10:36 of the second.
With the Maple Leafs on a power play and both teams attempting to change lines, Liles picked up the puck at centre ice and drove into the Nashville zone on the right side. Liles beat Rinne with a wrist shot from the circle.
That was all the offence the stingy Rinne gave Toronto.
“That might be the best game we’ve played all season,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “To be honest with you, start to finish, their goalie came up huge.
“He’s one of the best goalies, he was up for the Vezina, but we did our best and he was up to task.”
Nashville regained the lead less than two minutes later when Suter’s shot from the left side through traffic beat a screened Scrivens.
Suter and his defensive partner Shea Weber both had plus-4 ratings in the game.
“Tonight was one of those nights where they couldn’t get much going, and we took advantage of some of their turnovers and mistakes,” Suter said. “Everyone is playing better. Everyone is coming back hard and playing hard in the ‘D’ zone, and Pekks is standing on his head for us.”
Suter scored his fourth of the season, matching his total of each of the previous two seasons.
Erat gave Nashville a 3-1 lead at 2:05 of the third, capitalizing on a cross-ice pass from Fisher with the Predators on a 2-on-1 break.
“We are good on the forecheck and are just creating chances,” Erat said. “We are playing good defence against the other team’s top line and then getting pucks to the net.”
While Nashville coach Barry Trotz was happy with the offensive production of Fisher’s line, he was equally proud of the defensive effort by the trio that was matched against Toronto’s top line most of the night.
“They went head-to-head against a very good line, obviously with Sutes and Webs on the back end,” Trotz said. “They responded by shutting down the big line and scoring against them all the time. It was a really good effort from them.”
Halischuk added an empty-net goal to seal the win.
NOTES: Nashville, in its 13th NHL season, hosted Toronto for just the fourth time. … Suter was one of three Madison, Wis., natives who played in the game along with Nashville C Craig Smith and Toronto RW Phil Kessel. … Kostitsyn hadn’t recorded a point since Oct. 27. … Kessel had his four-game point streak snapped. … Rinne has started all but one of Nashville’s 18 games this season.