Predators get cooking early in shutout victory over Minnesota

Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 10:20pm

The first rule of restaurants is that you open big or you don’t open at all.

The Nashville Predators did exactly that Thursday as they feasted on the Minnesota Wild in a 4-0 victory.

The Predators opened a stretch during which they will play 12 of their final 15 games at home, and they did so in manner that whet the appetite of the 15,343 in attendance at Bridgestone Arena for more. Much more.

Their performance also probably had tongues wagging among the smorgasbord of opponents who must follow the Wild into town, the next of which is Colorado on Saturday.

“We had a lot better jump [Thursday] and obviously used the crowd and momentum to our advantage,” captain Shea Weber said. “We got off to a good start.”

Nashville scored its first two goals less than a minute apart — and fewer than five minutes into the contest. The lead grew to 3-0 with more than seven minutes to go before the first intermission.

The Predators dominated in shots on goal (31-19). Their advantage was 15-5 in the first period. In the second it was 9-4.

Their goalie made the saves look easy when shots actually did get through to him. Pekka Rinne notched his sixth shutout of the season and the 20th of his career, which moved him within one of Tomas Vokoun’s all-time franchise record.

“It was a little different game,” Rinne said. “We play these kinds of games once in a while, but it seems like on the road I’ve been getting a lot of shots. … When [the Wild] shot the puck, I pretty much saw every single one.”

The Predators did not commit a penalty until fewer than two minutes remained in the second period and were shorthanded just that one time. They blocked shots (nine, or roughly one for every two that got through). They won faceoffs (56 percent).

In short, it was exactly the kind of performance for which this team was starved, given that it had lost seven of its last nine (five in regulation) and had dropped to 11th in the Western Conference standings in recent days. With this victory it jumped both Minnesota and Anaheim into ninth.

“This was a little bit of a trap game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We came back [from the West coast] on [Wednesday] and sometimes it’s really hard to refocus. … I was little worried in the morning. We didn’t seem to have a lot of juice, but we came out with a lot of focus.”

Nashville even looked like a conventional hockey team, one with a clear-cut first line that produced as needed. The unit of David Legwand, Martin Erat and Joel Ward combined for the first and third goals and generated chances all night.

Ward started the scoring at 3:13 of the first period, six seconds after the expiration of a power play. Erat made it 3-0 at 12:32 of the first when he beat Legwand to a loose puck in front of the Minnesota net.

All three finished with two points and a plus-2 rating. It was Erat’s third straight multi-point game. For Legwand it was his second in three games with multiple points and his fourth straight with at least one goal or assist.

That unit now has been on the ice for seven of Nashville’s last nine goals.

“We’ll ride them as long as we can,” Trotz said. “The biggest thing is they’re skating — they’re working and they’re skating — and that’s where it starts. It’s been a good line for us the last couple games.”

A few more performances like this one from the whole teams and fans will be lining up outside the doors of Bridgestone Arena expecting to savor more victories.

“We just have to take advantage of this homestand right here,” Rinne said. “It’s so much fun to play at home.”

Briefly

• Nick Spaling scored two goals, the last with 5:01 remaining in the contest. It was the second multi-goal game of his career. The first was Jan. 11 — the last time Minnesota was in town.

All seven of Spaling’s goals this season — all seven of his career, in fact — have been scored at home.

“It’s been a while since I scored, so I was happy just to get one,” he said.

• This was Nashville’s eighth shutout of the season. They won each of the previous six by 3-0 counts after a 1-0 victory over Dallas back in October.

The last time the Predators scored more than three times in a shootout victory was March 18, 2010 — a 5-0 victory over Minnesota.

• Defenseman Teemu Laakso was recalled early in the day on an emergency basis. Kevin Klein was a game-time decision but ultimately played, logged 19:20 of ice time and had a plus-1 rating.

• Center Blake Geoffrion was back in the lineup after having been scratched Tuesday at Calgary.

To make room for Geoffrion, J-P Dumont was scratched for the fifth time in six games.