It was not long between the time Joel Ward was one of two Nashville Predators in the penalty box and when he was one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
What happened throughout that sequence went a long way toward helping the Predators defeat the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 Saturday before a sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena.
More important, that victory narrowed the gap between Nashville and the top eight spots in the Western Conference standings. For the second time in three days, the Predators climbed to ninth. This time, though, they got to within just one point of eighth place and just two points shy of fourth place.
“We’re a point out of fifth,” coach Barry Trotz said, “but we’re not in.”
Nashville led 2-1 when Ward was called for tripping at 10:54 of the second period. He did so as he helped kill a penalty against defenseman Jonathon Blum and the violation forced his team to play two men short for 43 seconds.
The Predators not only killed off the penalties successfully, they did not allow a shot while the Avalanche had the two-man advantage.
Shortly after Ward returned to the ice he stole the puck in the offensive end and beat Colorado goalie Peter Budaj. His 10th goal of the season came a mere 37 seconds after he left the box and provided just enough of a cushion against a team that pressured with speed throughout the contest.
“A great penalty kill, for sure,” Ward said. “Then I was fortunate enough to read a play and intercept a pass and kind of get a moment there with the goalie.”
Colorado had lost 17 of 18 coming in and had played at home the night before, yet Nashville still was outshot 38-29. If not for an Avalanche goal that was disallowed because it was played with a high stick (fewer than two minutes before Ward scored), things could have been different.
As it was, the outcome was not ensured until Martin Erat scored into an empty net with just under two seconds remaining.
“They were good, they were solid, they were strong at both ends of the ice,” center David Legwand said. “They’re a young team, they’re staying positive and they’re working toward their goals.”
It was the Predators got the game’s first two goals – both in the first period – and never trailed.
Then they got a timely one just when it seemed their lead was in its greatest peril.
“That was a major point in the game there,” Jerred Smithson, who helped kill the two-man disadvantage, said. “… The momentum did shift huge there. We just found a way to kill those off and then to capitalize when we got the opportunity was huge.”
Ward also had an assist for his second straight multi-point game, which gave him seven points in the last six contests, and equaled his career-high with a goal in three straight. He had a goal and an assist Thursday against Minnesota.
“It feels good,” Ward, whose last three-game goal streak was in Feb., 2009, said. “It’s good confidence to kind of contribute offensively. … I’ve just been trying to make the best plays possible.”
In this case he did so at the best possible time.
• Jordin Tootoo felt the Predators needed a lift.
Twelve seconds after Colorado scored to make it 3-2 in the final minute of the second period, Tootoo agreed to fight Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson. The two had been jawing on previous shifts.
“I didn’t send him out there or anything,” Trotz said. “I just said, ‘If he’s out there and you want to go, go. Instead of chatting at each other you guys can settle it as men.’”
The result was a sprited and lengthy encounter during which both men threw – and landed – many big shots. It ended with Tootoo performing a Hulk Hogan-like flex to the immediately energized crowd.
“I know when it’s my time to do my job,” Tootoo said. “… You want to punch them more than you get punched – that’s the bottom line.
“I don’t think you see any bruises on my face, do you?”
• Shea Weber tied Kimmo Timonen for the most goals in franchise history when he gave Nashville a 1-0 lead. It was the 79th of Weber’s career (his 15th of the season) in his 389th career contest.
Timonen scored 79 in 573 contests.
• The sellout was Nashville’s 12th of the season.