Leading the NHL with seven wins when down after 40 minutes, Toronto fell behind by four as the Predators tallied twice in each of the first two periods.
Alexander Mogilny scored his third goal in four games 33 seconds into the third, but the Maple Leafs thwarted their own comeback hopes by giving Nashville five power-play chances, including a pair of two-minute, two-man advantages.
In contrast, the Predators committed just one penalty, but it came between two Toronto infractions, preventing the Leafs from enjoying their only chance at a power play in the game.
“I’ve never seen that in my 13 years,” Toronto captain Mats Sundin said. “We didn’t have one power play and they had 10. That’s pretty unbelievable. It was a strange night in terms of the officiating out there. But that really was not the difference in the game. We didn’t have a very good start, gave up a couple of easy goals as a team and we looked sloppy.”
With just two goals in his first 40 games, Yachmenev opened the scoring 3:20 into the first period and increaed the Predators’ lead to 4-0 with 2:32 remaining in the second.
“The whole team has turned it up,” Vokoun said. “We are scoring more and they are giving me a little more help. It was a good team effort. I feel pretty good about the way I played. We needed to bounce back from last night.”
“It was a weird game,” Yachmenev added. “Never been in a game with so many penalties for just one team, but some were just frustration and lack of discipline. The turning point was Tomas’ stop on the penalty shot. He’s been key for us and he is the reason we have been winning so many games lately.”
Gary Roberts netted his fourth goal in three games for the Leafs, who had a five-game winning streak snapped.
“Sometimes the puck is just going in,” Murray said. “I’m just driving the net and looking for rebounds. Obviously, playing with Johnson and (rookie Adam) Hall, they are able to get me the puck in good situations.”
Toronto defenseman Jyrki Lumme fell while trying to keep the puck in the Predators’ zone at the left point, allowing Denis Arkhipov to skate in on a breakaway. Arkhipov’s shot trickled through Belfour’s pads but stopped at the goal line before Yachmenev poked it in at 17:28 for a 4-0 cushion.
“It’s always exciting to come here and play in this building,” Yachmenev said. “We don’t have any superstars, but we had all 20 guys going tonight. We have big forwards, lots of speed and we were able to forecheck and create some goals in the first two periods.”
While Vokoun was tangled with Roberts in the crease, Mogilny took a feed from Sundin and deposited it into an open net to get the Leafs on the scoreboard.
But the Predators were on the power play when Hall blasted a slap shot from the right circle off the left goalpost and into the net at 12:40 to regain the Predators’ four-goal advantage.
“I didn’t have a great game,” Belfour said. “Hopefully, we can get back on track the next game. When you are getting call after call, it gets kind of depressing. It put a damper on things. As soon as you get something going, they call another one of those dumb penalties. The fans didn’t come to see that, they came to see hockey.”
Roberts jabbed in the rebound of defenseman Robert Svehla’s point shot with 4:25 to go in the third, but it was not enough for Toronto, which lost for just the fourth time in its last 20 home games.
Reichel was awarded a penalty shot with 8:40 left when Vokoun threw his glove at a puck in the crease to keep it from crossing the goal line. But the Nashville goalie, who improved to 5-1-0 in his last six starts, scooped Reichel’s low wrister for his second save on three penalty shots this season and third on six chances in his career.
“For me, as a lefthanded goalie, it’s a lot better when I have to face a lefthanded shooter,” Vokoun said. “I just came out and tried to stay patient and make him do the first move.”