NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—The Nashville Predators are learning just how important every game is in their first true playoff race.
Dan Hamhuis and Steve Sullivan each scored early power-play goals, and Tomas Vokoun stopped 27 shots Thursday night to lead the Nashville Predators over the Minnesota Wild 4-0. They entered the game ranked eighth in the Western Conference despite having won three of the previous four games.
“We won three in a row and lost one, and I looked at the standings and all of a sudden we were in eighth,” Vokoun said. “Every game is huge.”
Sullivan said: “When you’re in a playoff race, you can’t afford to lose two games in a row.”
The victory pushed the Predators into a tie for fifth with Dallas, which had the night off. Vladimir Orszagh added a goal and an assist, Andreas Johansson had a short-handed goal and Martin Erat had two assists for Nashville, which won the season series with the Wild 2-0-2.
Coach Barry Trotz said he talked with his Predators about putting some distance between themselves and a team that reached the conference finals last season. Minnesota now trails Nashville by 11 points with 19 games left.
“You can never say never mathematically, but if we just continue to play good hockey and win our share of games, and I think that might have been enough separation to keep the Wild out of there,” Trotz said.
Vokoun got the 12th shutout of his career, and it was his second this season against a Minnesota team that has not scored against the Predators in Nashville since March 6, 2003. The Wild outshot Nashville 27-23, but went 0-for-7 on the power play.
“I felt confident they weren’t going to get a pea by him tonight,” Trotz said.
Hamhuis got Nashville on the board with his fifth goal of the season with a slap shot that went through Manny Fernandez’s legs at 9:20 of the first.
“As soon as they got the first goal, they were flying,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Minnesota defenseman Willie Mitchell had his chance to tie it late in the first period as he took a pass for a breakaway coming out of the penalty box. But he missed the net with a backhander.
Sullivan padded Nashville’s lead with his 21st goal and sixth in five games since being picked up in a trade from Chicago. Scott Walker passed to Sullivan at the left post, and he hit at it three times before pushing it past Fernandez late in the second period.
Nashville now has nine power-play goals since Sullivan joined the team, and a franchise record 35 at home.
“They are on a roll,” Mitchell said of the Predators. “They’ve got some life. They’ve got some new players that have injected some life into them.”
Fernandez started in goal for Dwayne Roloson, who was in Ontario for his father’s funeral. Fernandez is winless in 11 starts since Dec. 13, and this was only his third appearance in the past 15 games.
Orszagh made it 3-0 just 59 seconds into the third period as he scored his 15th goal, and Johansson added his 12th off a breakaway in which his backhander skipped off Fernandez into the net.
Sullivan nearly had another goal, but his breakaway was waved off and he was sent to the penalty box for a questionable hooking call. That gave Minnesota its best chance to avoid the shutout with a five-on-three, but Sergei Zholtokhad a shot go off the net left of the post.
Nashville is 23-1-3-1 when leading after two periods this season. … D Stan Neckar made his debut with the Predators. He had been sidelined by a groin injury after being signed as a free agent in November. … Only Detroit has more short-handed goals (15) than Nashville’s 13. … Several streaks ended for the Wild, including Alexandre Daigle, who had five assists in the previousthree games. Marian Gaborik had five points in the same stretch.