Martin Erat started a second-period scoring flurry and later ended the game with a shootout conversion as the Nashville Predators earned a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in their final contest before the Olympic break.
The victory gave the Predators (33-23-5, 71 points) five points in their four-game road trip (2-1-1) and, more importantly, guaranteed they would remain among the top eight in the Western Conference when the NHL ceased operations so many of its players could compete for their national teams in Vancouver.
With 21 games to play following the break, Nashville already has one more win on the road (17) than it had in all of 2008-09. Among the Western Conference teams, only San Jose (21) and Los Angeles (19) currently have more road wins.
Twelve of the remaining games, beginning March 2 at Edmonton, will be at home.
The last Olympic year (2006) the Predators went 7-1-2 in their first 10 games following the break, including 5-0-0 at home.
“We come out of the break and only have 21 games so it will be a dog fight in the West,” coach Barry Trotz said.
To get this latest victory, the Predators had to come from behind – three times, the last in the third period. Shea Weber’s goal with 7:43 to play tied it 3-3 and ultimately forced overtime. In the shootout, Nashville’s first two skaters – Cal O’Reilly and Erat – both converted, and goalie Dan Ellis stopped the Penguins’ only two tries.
Nashville is an all-time best 8-5 in shootouts. In the previous four seasons since the tiebreaker was instituted, it never won more than six times.
Erat brought Nashville back from a deficit the first time when he scored 34 seconds into the second period. Jordin Tootoo made it 2-2 12 seconds after Pittsburgh went beck in front 2-1.
All three of those goals came in the first 2:21 of the period.
The score remained tied until Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik made it 3-2 4:51 into the third.
“Once they made it 2-1, we got that next shift and got a goal,” Trotz said. “That was really huge. When it was 3-2 that was the first time I sensed we might not have that third try in us. Then we got a big goal there and at that point I felt that we were going to get a point. I didn’t know if we were going to get two.”
Erat’s goal was his 19th of the season and his fifth on the power play, the second of which equals his career-high Tootoo extended his goal-scoring streak to a personal best three games and raised his season total to five, the second-highest of his career.
Weber had a goal and an assist.
“One of the things we pride ourselves in organizationally is that we are resilient and we’ll hang in there,” Trotz said. “…There were some adjustments we tried to make during the game a little bit and guys just got it done. They battled hard and I’m just happy we were able to beat them in the shootout.”