VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Nashville Predators missed Steve Sullivan, and nowhere is that more evident then on their suddenly potent power play.
Returning to NHL action after missing a year and a half for two back surgeries, Sullivan helped transform the league’s second-worst power play into a force Wednesday in a 5-3 win over the struggling Vancouver Canucks.
The Predators scored on three consecutive man-advantage situations to erase a 3-1 deficit as the Canucks couldn’t take advantage of three goals on four shots in the second period.
The loss was a club-record eighth straight time at home.
Manning the left point, Sullivan helped orchestrate power-play goals by Martin Erat and Jason Arnott at the end of the second period. J.P. Dumont snapped the 3-3 tie early in the third.
“We’ve got some big threats and we’re just starting to find our groove,” Sullivan said of the Nashville power play.
“We’re just starting to get the right personnel in the right places. It just comes down to guys wanting pucks, guys making good decisions and we’re starting to do that now.”
Arnott, who tied the game with 10.4 seconds remaining in the second period on a blistering slapshot from the face-off circle, said Sullivan changed the power play from anemic to potent.
“With him moving around a lot, it frees up a lot of open ice which gives us more opportunities to shoot,” said Arnott who was off for holding when Sami Salo’s screened blue-line blast gave Vancouver a 2-1 lead.
“We’re not so stagnant any more. Instead of just moving around the (defensive) box, we’re trying to move into holes.”
The victory ended a three-game Nashville losing streak as the Predators improved to 21-23-3 and avoided a four-game sweep at the hands of the Canucks this season.
The Canucks, who have also lost seven in a row overall, dropped to 22-20-7 and slid farther out of the Western Conference playoff picture.
“The effort’s there, the preparation’s there, everything’s there,” said Vancouver defenceman Kevin Bieksa who was on the ice for Nashville’s two even-strength goals.
“For whatever reason, we’re not getting the results right now. It’s a frustrating time in here. We just let them back in the game, that’s what it comes down to.”
Joel Ward and David Legwand, into an empty net, also counted for the goal-starved Predators who have the league’s worst offence. Alex Burrows and Ryan Johnson scored the other Canuck goals.
Dumont fired his winner by controlling a loose puck at the side of the Vancouver net and stuffing it behind prone goalkeeper Roberto Luongo.
The goal came after a game-changing save by rookie Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne who surrendered three goals in five minutes 34 seconds early in the second period.
Rinne, making his fourth start in five games, was on his back and most of his net was open when he stopped Daniel Sedin with the game tied 3-3.
“I kind of just went down and reacted too early but I was able to spin around and get it with my stick,” Rinne said. “I got a little lucky but it was nice to get that save.”
Arnott said Rinne made a difference although Nashville outshot Vancouver 38-27.
“If that went in, that would have changed the whole momentum for us and it would have been tough to come back,” said Arnott who leads Nashville with 16 goals.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said he still believes in his players who once led the Northwest Division but now are out of a playoff position.
“Some people might just say I’m just saying that but I think we’ve got a good team,” said Vigneault whose lineup has been bolstered by free agent Mats Sundin and the return of all-star Luongo.
“I think guys’ intentions are good. Obviously, it’s not showing right now but I don’t doubt their intentions.”
NOTES: When Henrik Sedin drew an assist on Salo’s goal he and brother Daniel have combined for 851 points, passing Ron and Rich Sutter as the highest-scoring twins in NHL history … Jerred Smithson returned to the Nashville lineup after an ankle injury while groin problems continued to sideline Canuck Pavol Demitra who is expected to return Saturday against Minnesota … defenceman Alexander Sulzer, called up by Nashville from AHL Milwaukee after the all-star break, left the game favouring his shoulder after being checked into the boards by Darcy Hordichuk.