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Predators start strong, edge Sharks 3-2

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When the Nashville Predators win games, there are generally three constants: They score first, pay strict attention to detail and get a good performance from their goaltender.

All three criteria were met Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena as Nashville capped a perfect week with a 3-2 decision over the San Jose Sharks.

In improving to 16-14-3, the Predators upped their mark to 13-1-2 when potting the first goal. They also stayed conscientious in their defensive zone, committing just three giveaways and keeping San Jose's attack on the perimeter for the first two periods, and got 36 saves from goalie Carter Hutton (7-3-1).

"We had a good start, which is key against this team," said left winger Eric Nystrom. "We did a good job battling tonight and we were on the positive side with our special teams again. Those were keys to our victory."

Nystrom was part of that good start, giving Nashville a 1-0 lead at 16:04 of the first period with his sixth goal. Defenseman Victor Bartley wristed a shot from the left point that appeared to hit off Nystrom's skate and veer past goalie Antti Niemi.

The Sharks (20-7-6) entered the game outscoring teams 42-14 in the first 20 minutes but found themselves in an unaccustomed position, one that didn't thrill coach Todd McLellan.

"We need to have that desperation from the warmups," he said. "We weren't real aggressive at the start. I was disappointed in the first period and a half to two periods. I thought (Nashville) competed harder and took a lot of time and space from us along the walls."

Although San Jose buzzed the Predators' defensive zone a bit more during the second period, it fell behind 2-0 at 18:08 when defenseman Roman Josi buried his second goal of the year. With Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart in the penalty box for closing his hand on the puck, Josi took a pass from center Craig Smith and wristed a 31-foot shot over Niemi's left shoulder.

It was Nashville's third power-play marker in two games after the team had gone 0-for-16 in its previous six matches.

"He made a great pass from behind the net," Josi said of Smith. "I was trying to shoot the puck high."

San Jose got on the board at 7:28 of the third period when Dan Boyle tipped in the shot of fellow defenseman Matt Irwin for his sixth goal of the year. But the Predators, who played most of the period in their defensive zone, made a critical counter-attack pay off.

Left wing Viktor Stalberg, their big offseason free agent acquisition, scored just his fourth goal on a great individual play at 17:21. Stalberg lugged the puck down the left side and ripped a wrist shot off Niemi's left leg.

"Everyone knows that Stalberg can skate," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "But he can really shoot the puck. We need more guys with that 'shoot' mentality."

Left wing Patrick Marleau tipped his 15th goal home at 19:05 to draw the Sharks within a goal, but Hutton made the last of his 18 third-period saves on a wild scrum at the net's mouth in the last 30 seconds to seal it.

Niemi (17-6-6) finished with 20 saves for San Jose, which started a three-game trip with its fifth loss in six matches and its fourth consecutive defeat on the road.

Meanwhile, the streaky Predators continued to trend in the right direction. It was their third straight win, which follows a five-game losing streak that was preceded by five wins in six games. Before that, they lost four in a row by a combined score of 17-2.

"We did some of the things we do very well, which is play with structure and have commitment," Trotz said. "We didn't want to get down 2-0 against that team and have to play a wide-open game. We thought the start of the game was very important."

NOTES: Nashville C Craig Smith, who missed the last two games with flu-like symptoms, was back in the lineup. LW Gabriel Bourque was scratched to make room for Smith. ... San Jose D Scott Hannan (upper-body injury) was scratched for the fourth consecutive game. Hannan played briefly last season with the Predators before they shipped him to the Sharks for a conditional sixth-round pick. ... Nashville is one of only three teams in the league without a double-figure goal scorer. ... San Jose entered the game with more power-play time and less shorthanded time than any other team in the NHL.
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