Jason Pominville had two goals and an assist and Maxim Afinogenov and Ales Kotalik each scored twice to help the Buffalo Sabres snap a two-game skid with a 7-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. “We weren’t ready to play, and they showed us how to play hockey,” Nashville captain Kimmo Timonen said.
Nashville centre Scott Nichol was given a game misconduct for punching Jaroslav Spacek in the jaw when he wasn’t looking, starting a scrum after Spacek’s stick tripped him up and sent him into the goal post at 15:21.
Spacek finally got up a couple minutes later. Kotalik and Pominville responded with a power-play goal each to finish Nashville off or as Predators coach Barry Trotz called it, “rub salt in the wounds a little bit.”
Sabres forward Chris Drury called Nichol’s punch a sucker punch, and Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff wasn’t happy with it.
“There is no need for it in our game,” he said.
Trotz defended Nichol for being upset for being what he called being”corkscrewed” but not his center’s reaction.
“The referee punished him for it,” Trotz said.
The teams had not played since Nov. 29, 2003, and won’t play again this season unless it’s in the Stanley Cup final. With Buffalo the top team in the Eastern Conference and Nashville second in the West, it’s not an unlikely Cup preview.
“We wanted to jump on them early,” Pominville said. “They have been hot lately and haven’t lost much at home. Coming in, we had lost two, so we wanted to come out quick and play a complete game. And we were able to do that.”
The Sabres, who outshot Nashville 36-31, scored two goals in the first 5 minutes and sealed the victory with three in the second, including the last two by Afinogenov. Derek Roy, Brian Campbell and Daniel Briere each had two assists.
“We let them do whatever they wanted to do,” said Nashville goalie Chris Mason, who was pulled after the second period. “I’m not taking anything from them because they came to play tonight. We definitely weren’t ready.”
Martin Erat scored short-handed, and Jason Arnott added a power-play goal in the third as Nashville snapped a five-game winning streak by losing for the first time in six games against Eastern Conference teams.
“We knew we had to get our game together tonight since we didn’t play all that well against Montreal two nights ago,” Sabres goalie Martin Biron said.
The Predators used to dominate this intermittent series, winning the last four meetings. They also came in as the NHL’s best team on home ice, but the Sabres are the league’s best road team. They’re 15-3 on the road now.
This was just the second home loss in regulation this season for Nashville, which was playing on a second consecutive night.
The Sabres took advantage with a fast start.
Kotalik scored 33 seconds into the game by deflecting a shot from Campbell, who had just kept the puck in the zone. Pominville made it 2-0 at 5:43 of the first when he squeezed a shot between Mason and the post off a pass from Briere.
Buffalo took seven of the first nine shots and had two power plays to pad the lead. Nashville finally woke up when David Legwand grabbed the puck and started a 2-on-1 that Erat finished by scoring from the left circle for a short-handed goal that made it 2-1.
The Sabres put away the game in the second.
Tony Lydman scored his first this season at 5:25 by beating Mason over his glove off a rebound of his own miss when the puck bounced right back at him. Afinogenov scored his 15th and 16th goals within 3 minutes, the second a one-timer from the edge of the circle at 17:45.
Nashville gave Michael Leighton his first appearance in goal for the Predators.
Arnott added his eighth from the left circle at 3:02 of third, but Nashville didn’t score again.
Notes: Campbell extended his assists streak to three straight games. He has five assists in the past three games. … Buffalo is 11-1 when leading after the first period. … Mason started his 14th straight game and played in his 15th straight in relief of Tomas Vokoun (thumb). … Nashville dropped to 7-1-1 in the second of back-to-back games this season.