Every one of the Nashville Predators knew it was best to stay out of the penalty box Saturday against the San Jose Sharks.
What defenseman Dan Hamhuis did not know was which direction Sharks’ defenseman Kent Huskins was headed shortly past the mid-point of the third period.
“I thought he was going to turn one way, and he ended up skating straight into the boards,” Hamhuis said. “When he did that, I let off as much as much as I could. It probably looked worse than it was.”
The contact looked bad enough that officials called a boarding penalty against Hamhuis with 8:28 to play in a tie game.
Twenty-five seconds later the worst happened as San Jose’s power play – the best in the Western Conference – converted for the second time in the contest. Only this time it not only gave the Sharks their first lead, it also provided the game-winner as Nashville fell 4-3  before 16,007 at the Sommet Center.
The penalty to Hamhuis was the only one called against either team in the third period.
“That was not a good play,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It was a tie game with eight minutes to go. You have to be disciplined. … That was a poor play on his part.”
San Jose’s Dany Heatley scored the decisive goal, which was his second of the night. He also made it 2-2 at 14:57 of the second period, 1:08 after Joel Ward was sent off for hooking. As a result, he assumed the league lead in power play goals with 14.
Joe Thornton, the NHL’s assists leader, added to his total in that regard with helpers on both of Heatley’s goals.
“They have a real good team with good players, it was just a tough loss,” Predators’ forward J.P. Dumont said. “… That first line [Heatley, Thornton and Patrick Marleau] is pretty much an All-Star, Olympic line. We just have to make sure the next time we play those guys we keep playing the same way but we just stay out of the box. They have a real good power play.”
This was the third of four scheduled meetings between the teams this season. The first two – each side won once – also ended with a 4-3 score.
Nashville was shorthanded just three times total in those contests and successfully killed off each. In this one they played a man short four times and paid for it twice.
“Overall, it was kind of a sloppy game by both teams,” Heatley said. “The puck was bouncing a little bit; there were a couple mistakes. Fortunately we took advantage of a couple of power plays.”
The Predators got two goals from Dumont (one on the power play) and three assists by Cal O’Reilly and led three times. The longest it took San Jose to answer any of Nashville’s goals was 6:10.
“We don’t like those guys at all,” Dumont said. “They beat us in the playoffs (in 2006 and 2007), and every time we play those guys we know it’s going to be a tough game.”
They also know – now more than ever – that they can’t afford to commit penalties.
• A two-goal game by Dumont was not unprecedented, but it was a long time coming. The last time he scored twice in the same contest was Nov. 12, 2007 at Columbus – 193 games ago.
“I thought J.P. had a lot of determination (Saturday) night,” Trotz said. “… When he’s skating and moving and gets open, he can make plays.”
Dumont entered the night as Nashville’s third-leading scorer with 34 points. The vast majority of those points (25) had come on assists.
• O’Reilly’s three assists were a career-high for assists and points in a game.
He had three assists in four games from Jan. 7-15 before he was reassigned to Milwaukee for the fourth time this season. Since he was recalled again on Jan. 25 he had been held without a point in five appearances.
“It’s about two points for the team,” O’Reilly said. “I’d trade three assists for two points any night. It’s about winning, especially right now with the tight playoff races. When you don’t get two points it’s disappointing.”
• Center Marcel Goc.was held out with a reoccurrence of the upper body injury, which caused him to miss three games from Jan. 26-30. He had played in the Predators’ previous two contests.
“He actually skated for a few minutes (Saturday morning) and told us he wasn’t going to be able to go,” Trotz said. “I think there’s a good chance he’ll be ready for Tuesday (at the New York Islanders).”
Goc spent his first four NHL seasons with San Jose. He had one goal in two previous meetings against his former team.