Playing for Team USA, Predators forward shows scoring touch he lacked all season

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 6:33pm

Craig Smith’s hat trick Wednesday lifted Team USA to a 4-1 victory over host Finland at the IIHF Men’s World Championship in Helsinki.

Smith tied it 1-1 at 7:58 of the first period, just 2:05 after Finland took an early lead. The Nashville Predators forward broke the tie with a power play goal 3:22 into the final period and put the game away when he scored into an empty net with 42 seconds remaining.

“It feels really good,” Smith said. “… I think we’re getting better and better. We’re excited to have a couple days off here and get ready to go for the next game.”

The victory was the third in four games for the U.S., which lost 5-3 to 2012 champion Russia on Tuesday. Three contests remain in pool play — Saturday against France, Sunday against Germany and Tuesday against Slovakia.

Smith had just four goals in 44 games for the Predators during the recently completed 2012-13 season. He went 20 straight contests without one before he finally scored April 25 at Detroit, the next-to-last game.

That production was down dramatically from his rookie season (2011-12), when he had 14 goals and 22 assists in 72 appearances.

He currently is the Americans’ second-leading scorer with five points and has a three-game point streak. He had one assist each in a victory over Latvia on Sunday and the loss to Russia.

Playing in the tournament for the third time in as many years, he is one point short of his career-high. He had six points (three goals, three assists) in seven games in 2011, following his final season at the University of Wisconsin. He joined the team last year after Nashville was eliminated in the second round of the NHL playoffs and had two goals in four games.

Smith is one of two Predators players on the U.S. roster this year. Bobby Butler has one goal and one assist in four the four games.