Preds extend win streak to three as they beat Sharks

Preds v SJ

That 0-4-1 slide from a week ago seems like a distant memory, doesn’t it?

On the strength of Eric Nystrom, Roman Josi and Viktor Stalberg goals the Nashville Predators beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-2, on Saturday night in front of 16,243 at Bridgestone Arena.

Of course, 36 saves by Carter Hutton doesn’t exactly hurt either. The former Chicago Blackhawk and Rockford Ice Hog turned aside 20 shots in the third period alone en route to what might have been his best performance to date in a Preds sweater.

“I bet 15 of those came in the last five or six minutes of the game,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “We were okay. We were giving up shots but we had good sticks and we were boxing them out, we were doing all the things we needed to do. The real push came in the last four minutes there.”

Hutton, after being passed over by fellow rookie Marek Mazanec in November, has wrestled the starting job back by going 3-0-0 and allowing just four goals in the last three games.

As the first period was coming to a close, the Predators caught a lucky bounce. Stalberg fired a cross-ice pass back to Victor Bartley at the point. The Maple Ridge, British Columbia native fired a wrister toward the net that Nystrom was able to get an ankle on to make it 1-0.

As with the opening frame, the Preds struck in the final minutes of the second as well. While on the power play, Nick Spaling was able to come out of the scrum with the puck and get it to Craig Smith in the corner. The former Wisconsin Badger found a wide-open Josi in the slot who tallied his second of the year to make it 2-0.

In the third, the Sharks finally got on the board. Pred killer Patrick Marleau carried around the Nashville cage and found Matt Irwin coming into the zone late. With Dan Boyle circling in front, Irwin took a shot that was deflected by the two-time All-Star to cut the Nashville lead to one.

Nashville got their two-goal lead back when Stalberg raced down the wing and took advantage of a fatigued Sharks blueline. Using Nystrom as a decoy on the odd-man rush, Stalberg fired a laser past Antti Niemi.

“I think he was just going to race to the red line, chip it in and go for the change,” Trotz said. “But we were all yelling ‘Boyle’s tired! Just keep going!’ And he did. Luckily he listened to us.”

The Sharks would make things interesting when, in the final minute of regulation, Marleau would convert with a gorgeous tip to pull within one but it was too little, too late as Nashville would take the two points.

“It’s good that we responded but I think we should be a desperate club in warm ups and from then on,” San Jose Head Coach Todd McLellan said about their relentless surge in the final frame. “It’s disappointing when you keep clubs to 12 [shots] in Minnesota and 23 [here]. With those shot totals you should at least get a point.”

The Predators will now turn their attention to the conference leading Blackhawks. Coming into the night, no Western Conference team in the top 10 had a losing streak of any length (even one game). It’s difficult to gain ground when everyone ahead of you is winning. As a result, keeping pace becomes the priority.

“We’ve just trying to live in the moment right now,” Trotz said. “We’ve got some chasing to do and some catching up to do but, if you just sort of pound the rock or take it one brick at a time, you can build something.”

The last time the two teams matched up, the Predators hung seven on the Blackhawks. Considering that and the fact that they got trounced 7-3 by an average Toronto Maple Leaf team tonight, it’s safe to say they’re going to play with a chip on their shoulder.

Puck drops at 7:00pm Central on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena.

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MY THREE STARS (as voted on with 6:12 left in regulation):
1. Carter Hutton (NSH)
2. Roman Josi (NSH)
3. Victor Bartley (NSH)

THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
1. Carter Hutton (NSH)
2. Roman Josi (NSH)
3. Viktor Stalberg (NSH)