Battle for playing time factors into Predators' latest victory

Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 10:50pm

If any of those dressed in Atlanta Thrashers jerseys at Bridgestone Arena — and there was more than  smattering of them — came to see what they had been missing this season, Saturday’s game between the Nashville Predators probably did not give them pause.

Predators coach Barry Trotz, on the other hand, was reminded that he must to think twice when he makes out the lineup for each remaining game of the regular season. Matt Halsichuk and Gabriel Bourque, two players who have been scratched in recent weeks, each scored as Nashville defeated the Winnipeg Jets (formerly the Thrashers) 3-1 before a sellout crowd.

Halischuk gave Nashville a 1-0 lead when he scored on the rush with a shot from the right wing at 2:56 of the second period. Bourque made it 2-0 just past the halfway point of the period when he stuffed home a rebound chance. Shea Weber concluded the scoring with an empty-net goal with 9.9 seconds to play.

“It’s always tough being out of the lineup and you just want to make sure you get your work in and you’ll be ready to play when you get back in,” Halischuk said. “We have great forwards and a great group of guys here so you know there’s going to be competition for us, and you always have to work together.”

Halischuk was a healthy scratch in five of the previous 10 games, including the Thursday’s 5-1 loss at Pittsburgh. He has, however, made a habit of producing in his return.

This was the third time since mid-January he had a point in the first game after he sat out one.

“Hali is one of those guys, I probably don’t give him enough due for how important he is to our team,” Trotz said. “… His foundation is a very strong, diligent work ethic. That’s why he has success every time he’s in and out of the lineup.”

Bourque sat out only three times since February, but his role was clouded with the return of Alexander Radulov, who immediately was added to the second line. Bourque was most recently held out on March 15 and has put up one goal and three assists in five appearances since then.

“For sure, I want to keep my spot,” he said. “I try to play hard every night and to help the team to win. ... No matter who I’m with or how many minutes I play, I just want to play hard.”

For a moment, it looked as if he might be lost as an option. Early in the third period he went down to block a shot and took the puck off his left knee. Play was stopped as he was on the ice clutching his leg and he needed help to the bench.

He returned a short time later, though, and finished with five shots, the most by any Nashville forward.

“You look at the commitment on the blocked shot by Bourque — that’s playoff commitment, and that’s why he’s in the lineup,” Trotz said. “And that’s why he’s moved ahead of some guys in the lineup.”

Those scratched for this one included Craig Smith and Jordin Tootoo. The only games Tootoo had missed this season were two in early December when he was suspended by the league office for a collision with Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller.

“Most times coaches scratch guys because of two things — work ethic and detail,” Trotz said. “… In work ethic, [Tootoo] has been OK. It’s more detail. Toots is pretty important to us, he always has been.

“… I know it was a little bit of a tough scratch for me but at the same time I think our message is that you have to game in order if you’re going to be in the lineup.”

Briefly

• Radulov had the primary assist on Halischuck’s goal, which gave him a point in each of his first two games back in North America. He had a goal at Pittsburgh.

He passed to Halischuk in the neutral zone and then took two defenders with him into the offensive end, which left Halischuk unchecked and free to shoot.

“The play on Halischuk’s goal, that was pretty sweet,” Trotz said.

• Center Paul Gaustad was back in the lineup after having missed the previous four with an injury.

He won 12 of 20 faceoffs and played 42 seconds on Nashville’s only penalty kill.

• Weber is the only Nashville defenseman to score an empty-net goal this season. Saturday’s was his third.