COLUMBUS, Ohio – Steve Sullivan has such a magic touch against the Columbus Blue Jackets that even when things don’t turn out his way—they turn out his way.
Sullivan, the Blue Jackets’ longtime nemesis, scored the only goal in the shootout to lead the Nashville Predators to a 4-3 victory Wednesday night.
Sullivan, who has 43 points in 44 career games against Columbus, notched the goal while going second in the shootout. But it didn’t come out the way he wanted, even though it ended up in the net.
He deked Steve Mason to the ice at the left goal mouth and then calmly tapped the puck into the vacant net.
“It looked better on film than how it went through in my mind,” he said. “There was a little bit of panic, I’m not going to lie, when I got to the hash marks and the puck was bouncing a little. The play I had designed in my head, that’s not what developed.”
But such is the nature of the Predators’ mastery over the Blue Jackets that everything always seems to come out right for Nashville. The Predators are 41-13-4-1 overall against Columbus, and have gone 24-4-2 in the series since 2006-07.
No wonder former Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock once referred to Nashville as “the evil empire.”
“We’ve been pretty good this year when we’ve gotten leads late in games,” rookie Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. “This one shouldn’t have happened.”
Adding to the misery for the Blue Jackets is that another thorn in their collective side, Martin Erat, had two assists. He has 40 points in his last 40 games against Columbus.
Pekka Rinne, who had 28 saves in regulation and overtime, made stops on Jake Voracek, Rick Nash and Antoine Vermette—who had two goals—in the shootout.
“I personally like the shootouts,” Rinne said. “We prepare for the shootouts pretty well and we practice them. It’s a big part of the game. One point one way or the other, any time you go into the shootout you want to get that extra point.”
Colin Wilson, Sergei Kostitsyn and Kevin Klein scored goals and Martin Erat had two assists for the Predators.
Kris Russell supplied a go-ahead goal for Columbus in the third period.
Down 3-2 in the third period, the Predators tied it on Klein’s innocent-looking shot with 8:22 left. He collected the puck near the blue line, skated laterally for an instant and then fired a hard, low shot that goalie Steve Mason lost in the traffic in front of the net.
“It’s just nice to chip in,” he said. “After we went down the guys never gave up and kept going. We were buzzing the zone and had lots of chances and had one go in, which was nice.”
Columbus overcame the one-goal deficit earlier in the period when Russell found the net on a hard wrister from the high slot two minutes into the period.
After an Erat blast caught the corner junction and just missed going in for the Predators, the Blue Jackets took a 3-2 lead when Nash made a great individual effort and Vermette collected his second garbage goal. Nash went strong to the net, muscling his way between two defenders to get off a point-blank shot on Rinne. The goalie got a piece of it, but Vermette was there to punch in the go-ahead goal.
“You definitely want to take the point out of their hands,” Vermette said. “Those are huge points and we could have had one more tonight.”
But, as usual, the Predators held sway.
“Marty put one off the crossbar and they come down and score a minute later,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s one of those things where you can get real deflated. But our team’s got really good resiliency. We’ve got real good character and we battled.”
NOTES: Columbus LW Ethan Moreau, who broke his hand on Oct. 20 against Anaheim, returned to the lineup after missing 17 games. … R.J. Umberger had two assists for the Blue Jackets, giving him a franchise-record 10-game points streak. … The Predators set a franchise record by not allowing a power-play goal in their eighth game in a row. … Nash’s assist on Vermette’s second goal was the 200th of his career.