One turnover for Philadelphia. One clutch swipe for the Predators. One play that showed why each team is at their current spot in the standings. Kariya fed Martin Erat off the turnover for the winner with 5:09 left to help the Predators win their third straight game, 3-2 over the Flyers on Wednesday night.
“You make a play like that, you lose a game and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Rathje said. “That’s the way the hockey is. You make a mistake like that and people are going to be upset about it.”
Steve Sullivan and Alexander Radulov also scored, and Chris Mason stopped 24 shots for the Central Division-leading Predators. Mason has been strong in goal since replacing the injured Tomas Vokoun (thumb), improving to 5-1-1 this season.
About 90 seconds after the last-place Flyers showed some surprising spirit to tie it 2-2 on R.J. Umberger’s seventh goal of the season, the Predators caught a break when Rathje tried to pass to the high slot. Instead, Kariya was all over the puck, never giving the Flyers a chance to recover, quickly dishing the puck to Erat in the low slot for his sixth goal of the season.
“It was just a bad turnover and Paul just gave me the puck in the circles and I shot it and it went in,” Erat said. “We’ve actually been playing really good in the road. In this game we made too many turnovers.”
But the Flyers made the crucial one that hurt the most.
“Of course it hurts,” Flyers captain Peter Forsberg said. “What can you say? Turnovers are going to happen in a 60-minute game.”
Not surprisingly, the crowd erupted in boos and the Flyers failed in their bid to win three straight games for the first time this season. Antero Niittymaki had 26 saves and Mike Knuble scored his eighth goal for the Flyers.
Knuble, who signed a two-year contract extension earlier in the day, gave the Flyers an early 1-0 lead. Forsberg’s shot deflected off Mason, allowing the streaking Knuble to knock the puck in from the right side.
For the rest of the game, though, Nashville controlled the play, outshooting the Flyers in each of the first two periods and holding a 29-26 edge overall.
Mason was unflappable in goal, even recording an assist on Radulov’s goal.
“I believe I can play, it’s just hard to get an opportunity,” Mason said. “Once you get into the NHL, you’re behind a lot of good goalies. I happen to be behind one of the best in the league and that makes it even tougher to get ice time.”
Sullivan tied it midway through the first, and the Predators went ahead 2-1 on Radulov’s fifth goal of the season early in the second period. No surprise there for Nashville, which has outscored opponents 33-11 in the second this season, and outshot the Flyers 8-5 in the period.
Radulov scored a goal for the third straight game.
Mired in last place for almost the entire season, the Flyers got a late spark from Umberger. His backhander from the slot with 6:31 left tied it and gave hope the Flyers might be able to continue their slow climb out of the cellar.
Instead, it was more of the same for each team and the Predators improved to 4-0-0 against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
“We’re in a deep hole,” Forsberg said.
Notes: Flyers G Robert Esche underwent groin surgery Wednesday and could miss up to a month. Goalie Martin Houle was called up from the Phantoms, their AHL affiliate. … Flyers D Joni Pitkanen sat out with a left hip flexor. … The game was part of Nashville’s annual Father’s Trip. The Predators were joined by 16 of the players’ fathers (and seven fathers of the team staff). The game was a special treat for Jukka Timonen. Both his sons, Nashville captain Kimmo and Flyers defenceman Jussi, played in the game.