NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators just keep winning. With each win, they keep climbing their way up the Western Conference ranks.
Steve Sullivan scored the tiebreaking goal on a breakaway with 1:46 left in the second period, and the Predators beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 Thursday night for their sixth straight victory.
The win put a team that was ranked 14th as of Feb. 3 into a tie for sixth, and holding the tiebreaker with Columbus thanks to one more victory than the Blue Jackets.
“This is exactly what we needed, and hopefully we can keep riding it,” Sullivan said. “With 17 games left in the season, this is when you want to get hot down the stretch. We’re in a dogfight to make the playoffs, and we want to make sure we keep going hard.”
“Every point is huge, and now we have new goals all the time when we win games and you get more hungry and more hungry after every win,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Now you want to catch Vancouver and those guys, too.”
Vern Fiddler, Ryan Jones and Martin Erat also scored for Nashville, which has won 10 straight at home against Columbus.
Jason Williams and Rick Nash each scored for the Blue Jackets, who have not won in Nashville since April 3, 2006. Columbus played without centre Antoine Vermette, its trade deadline pickup from Ottawa, and lost centre Fredrik Modin to an injured knee early.
“He’s such a big part of our team, especially when we’re on the road and for when we need that extra kick,” Nash said. “Its tough to lose any guy and be short a guy.”
Nashville has the NHL’s stingiest penalty kill on home ice, and the Predators killed off a two-minute 5-on-3 in the first period where Columbus had a play reviewed and ruled as no goal. Nashville had a power-play goal wiped off in the period because Jordin Tootoo batted the puck into the net with his left hand.
Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock called it an emotionally intense game.
“It exposed a lot of things we need to work on,” he said.
But the Predators led 3-2 after a wild second period in which Columbus led 2-1 after Williams scored on a backhander past Rinne at 11:43, then Nash scored with a shot that appeared to hit off Nashville defenceman Greg Zanon’s left leg at 14:05.
Nashville scored 23 goals in the previous four games, and the Predators answered again. Ryan Jones scored on a wrister at 15:39 to tie it 2-2. Then Jason Arnott got the puck to Sullivan, who outskated a Columbus defender and put a backhander over Steve Mason’s glove hand at 18:14.
Sullivan, who missed nearly two seasons and needed two surgeries on his back, missed a couple of shifts in the second period with what Nashville coach Barry Trotz called a cramp in his calf. Sullivan returned and helped shift the momentum, and he said he wasn’t worried about his back considering he finished the game.
The forward has four goals in four games, and Fiddler compared Sullivan to a key pickup at the trade deadline for a team that made no moves.
“And that’s probably one of the biggest pickups you can make right now in the NHL. Since he’s got his game back, he’s really helped our team … It just goes down the chain and helps with every line,” Fiddler said.
Erat padded the lead when he tipped in a shot from Ryan Suter from the blue line at 4:24 of the third.
In this game featuring rookie goaltenders, Rinne kept Nashville in the game early and late as Columbus outshot the Predators 33-23.
One of his best saves came during the 5-on-3 after a rebound deflected out to Columbus centre Jason Williams, and he shot just inside the post and was stopped by Rinne’s stick. A review came with six seconds left in the 5-on-3 with the no-goal ruling upheld after a closer look. Nash also passed to Kristian Huselius in the slot, but Rinne stopped that shot at 13:23.
Notes: Columbus played its second game without centre Michael Peca (jaw). … Nashville now is 27-6-2 when scoring first. … Erat’s goal was the 100th of his career and his first since Feb. 5. It also was the first goal scored by Fiddler and Jones since Feb. 5. … The Predators now have gone nine straight games at home without allowing a power play goal. … The Blue Jackets activated defenceman Rostislav Klesla and forward Fredrik Modin off injured reserve.