The Nashville Predators were all smiles Thursday following a 3-1 victory over the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Canucks.
Some of those grins were a little uglier than others, though.
The contest, played before 15,337 at Bridgestone Arena and filled with post-whistle taunts and shoves, included two Nashville forwards being hit in the face with pucks.
Mike Fisher took a Ryan Suter shot off the right cheek roughly eight minutes into the contest. Steve Sullivan got it with a little more than seven minutes to play in the second when a pass from a teammate deflected up off a Vancouver stick.
“It took a while to get stitched up,” Fisher said. “After that, we just had to stop the bleeding. I’ve been hit a little bit harder than that before and have had lots of stitches. It’s just a matter of stopping the bleeding and getting back out there as soon as I can.”
He was there in plenty of time to get the second of two goals 49 seconds apart that provided the difference on the scoreboard. Nick Spaling got the game-winner with 1:38 to go in the second period, and Fisher followed with his first as a Predator on the following shift.
While Fisher missed the remainder of the first period after he tasted rubber, Sullivan was knocked from the contest altogether. That happened a few minutes after center Marcel Goc left with an upper body injury, which he sustained away from the puck when he went into the boards awkwardly.
The result was a makeshift rotation up front in which six different Nashville forwards played more than 16 minutes, led by David Legwand who logged a whopping 20:48 of ice time. Much of Legwand’s ice time was against Vancouver’s high-scoring twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who combined for their team’s only goal.
“Everybody played with everybody because we were down to 10 forwards for a good portion of the game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… It was a potpourri of lines that you saw. … I was trying to have some matchups but it was a little tougher when they had four lines and we had three.”
Sullivan ultimately was taken to Vanderbilt hospital for a closer examination of his injuries. Trotz said the veteran forward was hit in the face but not the eye.
“He took it pretty good and didn’t look good going off,” Fisher said. “Hopefully he’s going to be OK. … I think one of [Vancouver’s] players got one too. It was just one of those nights where the puck was bouncing and we got a bit of bad luck. But that’s part of it.”
The dwindling number of Nashville forwards helped balance the talent level given the fact that Vancouver started the night short five injured defensemen, including former Predator Dan Hamhuis (concussion).
The Canucks then tied it 1-1 with 1:45 to go before the second intermission with a power play goal. The Predators answered with those by Spaling and Fisher less than a minute later.
“Pucks in the face are probably the scariest thing about being a hockey player, but you have to give [Fisher] a lot of credit,” Nashville defenseman Shane O’Brien said. “He takes one in the face, gets zipped up, comes back and scores a big goal for us.
“Obviously, they’re a little banged up on the bang end. They’re missing some guys they’re going to have in the playoffs. That’s definitely not the best team they could put on the ice. … But we found a way to get it done, and that’s what this time of year is all about.”
And that was the only reason they needed to smile.
• Nashville was called for five penalties as compared to two for Vancouver.
In fact, the Canucks went more than 56 minutes between their violations — both against defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. The first came at 2:12 of the opening period and the second with 1:10 remaining in the contest.
All five of the Predators’ penalties occurred in between, including at least one in all three periods.
“After the first, we were getting distracted a little bit by the calls,” Trotz said. “Some of the guys didn’t agree with them. Agree with them or not, it can’t affect your game or your focus. I thought we were much better after the first period.”
• Trotz said Goc is likely doubtful for Saturday’s game against Phoenix because of an upper-body injury but did not rule out the veteran center completely. Sullivan’s status is undetermined and will be updated Friday.
• Martin Erat had a goal and an assist for Nashville. It was his second multi-point game in the last three and gave him 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the last nine games.
That stretch accounts for one-third of his point total for the season.