The Nashville Predators were hockey’s version of the quarter horse on Saturday night.
They were unable to produce any sort of payoff when they tried to cover the full distance, in this case something close to the 200 feet that is the length an NHL rink. However, on a short course – from the blue line in, for example – they were a good bet.
Dan Hamhuis, J.P. Dumont and David Legwand provided a trifecta of sorts that paid off in a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers before 14,120 at Sommet Center.
Three goals were the result of activity that started and finished within the 75 feet of the offensive end. As it turned out, Nashville won by three goals — its largest margin of victory this season and the first win by three or more since an 8-0 rout of Detroit back on Feb. 28 (the 63rd game of last season). It also was just the third victory this season without the benefit of a power-play goal.
“It didn’t matter how we scored,” Dumont said. “We have to make sure we give a good cushion to our goaltending. It took a while. It took three periods, but we did get that cushion.”
Dumont put the Predators in front to stay 1:08 into the final period after Jason Arnott foiled a Florida clearing attempt. Arnott held the puck in at the blue line and fed a pass to Steve Sullivan whose shot was stopped. Dumont gathered in the rebound and had plenty of time to lift a backhand under the crossbar.
It was similar to Hamhuis’ goal, which put Nashville on top 1-0 with 1:32 to play in the opening period. The difference was that Hamhuis held the puck in at the blue line and then got off a shot himself. The puck deflected off Panthers’ forward Kamil Kreps and into the net for Hamhuis’ first goal in 48 games.
“There were a couple of bad plays and we can't afford to do that," Florida coach Peter DeBeor said. "... We just shot ourselves in the foot. (Dumont's goal) was a bad play -- we didn't manage the puck. We had full control of the puck in our end and we gave it away. Cost us a goal. Cost us the game."
Legwand scored when he battled defenseman Bryan Allen from the blue line all the way down to the slot area in pursuit of a loose puck. Legwand got there first and managed to poke a shot past goalie Scott Clemmenesen. That was just 4:08 after Dumont’s goal.
Joel Ward scored the final goal into an empty net with a shot from deep in Nashville’s defensive zone.
“They beared down in the third,” coach Barry Trotz said. “(It was a) big goal early, (Arnott) picking off a little bit of a controlled breakout. … That was a real big goal, and then, obviously, getting the third goal was huge. (Legwand) just kept his legs moving and was able to get a (goal).
“We just played the way we had to play.”
• Nashville came into the night with the fewest fighting majors in the NHL this season — three. It nearly doubled that total when Jordin Tootoo dropped the gloves twice with Florida’s Kenndal McArdle.
The two first went at it two seconds into the second period. Unsatisfied with an uneventful tussle, McArdle sought out Tootoo again nearly eight minutes later. Tootoo obliged and when he went to the penalty box, McArdle went to the locker room for treatment.
“The second fight, he knew I was at the end of my shift so I thought that was a gutless move on his part,” Tootoo said.
The two fights — Tootoo’s first two of the season — raised his NHL career total to 50.
“(The first) wasn’t much of a fight … so (McArdle) said, ‘Let’s go again,’” Trotz said. “Bad move.”
• Dan Ellis got the win in goal and improved to 4-4-1 on the season. It was his first appearance since Nov. 10 at San Jose, and his first start at home since the home-opener on Oct. 8.
“It’s just nice to come back here and play in front of the home crowd,” Ellis said. “It’s always a good feeling to feel like a real Nashville Predator. Getting the win was important for myself after sitting that long, and the guys played unbelievable.”
• Tootoo had an assist on Legwand’s goal. As a result, he established career-highs for consecutive games with an assist and consecutive games with a point — four, in both cases.