After allowing 13 goals in Nashville’s opening two losses, the Predators’ goalie has roared back during an impressive three-game winning streak. His latest effort was a 38-save performance that produced his 17th NHL shutout and gave the Predators a 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
“My job is to stop the puck,” said Vokoun, who has turned away 91 of the past 93 he’s faced. “Goalie is your most important player. When he is not stopping the puck, it’s tough to win.”
Scott Nichol had a goal and assist for his first points of the season as the Predators evened their record through six games. They are out of last place and ready to work their way toward a third straight playoff appearance.
“After the first three games we had to kind of question ourselves but we all knew we could reach another level as a team,” said Scottie Upshall, who assisted on Jerred Smithson’s second-period, power-play goal.
The Rangers outshot the Predators in every period but lost for the fourth time in five games.
Nichol gave Nashville a 2-0 lead midway through the second period and then helped set up Smithson’s first of the season with 1:48 left in the frame. Jason Arnott scored his second goal in the first period for the Predators, who have won the first two legs of a three-game swing through the New York metropolitan area.
Nashville edged the Islanders 2-1 in a shootout on Monday and will face the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
“We played a solid two games in a row, and Vokie stood on his head for us,” Arnott said. “That’s what we needed. That’s kind of road hockey. You just kind of muck it up, get the win and get out of the building.”
Although they yielded only one power-play goal, the Rangers again took a slew of penalties. Nashville had seven man-advantage situations, including a 5-on-3 and two power plays that started in the final minute of one period and carried over.
New York coach Tom Renney was incensed Monday when the Devils had a 7-1 power-play advantage in the Rangers’ 4-2 victory. The Rangers killed them all off, but didn’t find the same success in the matchup with the Predators.
Nashville’s lead grew to 3-0 when Smithson scored for the first time in 21 games, dating to March 14 of last season. The Predators are only looking ahead now.
That is a much easier task now that Vokoun is healthy and again on top of his game. He missed the Predators’ first-round playoff loss against San Jose last season after developing blood clots.
“We dug ourselves a hole and we dug ourselves out of a hole,” he said of their start. “You have to bounce back. If you can’t do it, then you can’t play this sport.”
Earlier in the second period, Nichol banked the puck off the boards and retrieved it after getting around defenceman Marek Malik. Nichol skated out from the corner and cut in front before sliding a shot past defenceman Michal Rozsival and into the lower left corner of the net at 9:42
Vokoun was sharp throughout and was an important component in killing off all eight Rangers power plays that featured three two-man advantages. The final one came in the final six minutes, and lasted 1:03.
“That was probably the key of the game,” Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said. “It is tough to say. The shots didn’t go in.”
New York tried to find space around Vokoun from long distance, as Jagr fired away from the high slot during a second-period power play, and from in close, too.
Petr Prucha was denied on three whacks from the left post in the second period, and Matt Cullen was frustrated, too, in the third when Vokoun kept a short flip shot out. Brendan Shanahan rushed in to jab at the rebound, but the goalie covered up.
Henrik Lundqvist finished with 24 saves for the Rangers, who fell to 2-3 at home.
Notes: Shanahan scored on the Rangers’ only power-play chance against the Devils on Monday. … Nashville entered with the worst penalty-killing unit in the NHL (eight goals in 21 chances), but was perfect for the second straight game. The Predators were 3-for-3 against the Islanders and 0-for-2 on their own power play.