COLUMBUS, Ohio – Longtime Columbus Blue Jackets nemesis Steve Sullivan was up to his old tricks.
Sullivan had three goals for the seventh time in his career, leading the Nashville Predators past the Blue Jackets 5-3 on Monday night. He wasn’t even aware of how much he’s taunted and tormented the Blue Jackets over the years. “I didn’t know that,” he said. “I thought my only good stats were against Nashville, before I got here.”
In just 39 career games against the Blue Jackets, Sullivan has 16 goals and 27 assists – more points than against any other opponent in his 797-game career.
“Games like that are just lucky breaks, lucky shots go in when you don’t expect them,” he said. “Our line of late has been playing very well. Martin Erat with a recent hat trick, Jason Arnott with goals quite a bit lately. We’ve been clicking.”
Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Jones also had goals for the Predators, who have won all three meetings this season, the first two by matching 4-3 shootout scores.
Antoine Vermette, Jakub Voracek and R.J. Umberger scored for Columbus, which has won only two of its last 13 games.
“It’s hard when you go through things like this,” said Umberger, who also had an assist. “Every loose puck, every turnover, every battle you don’t win ends up in your net.”
The Predators have dominated the Blue Jackets throughout the nine-year series, going 8-2-2 in their last 12 visits to Columbus in addition to winning their last 13 at home.
“I think we always try to bring one of our better games against this team,” said goalie Dan Ellis, who had 28 saves for Nashville. “We have developed a little bit of a rivalry over the past few years. They’re always intense games.”
It was just another bad night for the Blue Jackets.
“We were slow with the puck and it’s been like that for a while,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We made a lot of puck errors in our own end. Today was a microcosm of the season, to be honest with you. We create enough chances to score every night (but) it doesn’t matter unless you are good from the red line back.”
Early in the second period, the Blue Jackets had a two-man advantage for 1:13 but never got a shot on goal.
Soon after, the game flipped in Nashville’s favour as the Predators scored twice in 25 seconds. A defensive giveaway led to Hornqvist’s seventh of the year for a 2-1 lead. After taking a perfect centring pass from David Legwand, Hornqvist waited patiently until a sliding defender got out of his way before drilling the shot into the net.
Before that goal could be announced, Sullivan notched his second of the night when he rammed in a rebound of Erat’s shot.
“In the second period we took all of those penalties,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said of the five minors assessed his team. “We got some huge kills. I thought we got a little momentum off that 5-on-3. When they didn’t score, your team’s bench gets going again. Those two quick goals were huge. We scored those back-to-back goals on back-to-back shifts. That gave us a little breathing room.”
After Columbus cut the lead to a goal, Sullivan was in the high slot when he took a feed from Francis Bouillon for a one-timer.
A lone Nashville fan tossed a hat onto the ice several minutes later.
Sullivan’s three goals were half of what he had in his 32 previous games this season.
He had opened the scoring with a vicious slap shot from the left dot. Vermette then redirected Voracek’s slap shot to even things, but the Predators – as they always seem to – controlled every facet of the game when the Blue Jackets are the opponent.
“We got a lot of contributions from all lines,” said Jones, who attended school 120 miles away at Miami (Ohio). “Sully got three tonight, which is a big night. Any time a guy can put in three it’s going to give you a chance to win.”
NOTES: Nashville improved to 14-2-1 when scoring the first goal. … The Blue Jackets placed RW Derek Dorsett on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 12 with a broken hand. He’s expected to be out four weeks. … The Predators have scored at least four goals in nine of their last 15 games.