Nashville Predators Craig Smith (L) scored a rare goal as the Predators held Columbus without a shot on net in the final 2:49 to salt away a 4-3 win at Bridgestone Arena. File Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After blowing a two-goal lead with less than six minutes left Tuesday night, the Nashville Predators were presented with another two-goal advantage in the last five minutes Thursday night.
When the Columbus Blue Jackets scored with under three minutes left, one could understand why Nashville coach Peter Laviolette experienced a flashback.
"It might have crossed my mind," he said, drawing a laugh.
This time, Laviolette was able to smile after the game, as the Predators held Columbus without a shot on net in the final 2:49 to salt away a 4-3 win at Bridgestone Arena.
In upping its record to 24-17-8, Nashville received second period goals from Calle Jarnkrok and Harry Zolnierczyk, plus two third period markers from Craig Smith as it improved to 7-1-1 in the last nine games.
As for the Blue Jackets (32-12-4), the loss was a capper to a tumultuous day. Coach John Tortorella flew back to Columbus earlier in the day because of a family emergency that will keep him from coaching the Metropolitan Division in this weekend's All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
Assistants Brad Larsen and Brad Shaw ran the team in Tortorella's absence, but the Blue Jackets fell to 5-7-0 since authoring a 16-game winning streak from Nov. 29-Jan. 3.
"We've got a lot of guys that have played a lot of hockey," Shaw said. "The tone of the voice might change, but we've got a lot of sharp guys. We're pretty plugged in on lines and assignments. It didn't really change all that much."
What also didn't change for Columbus was a recent tendency to give up prime scoring chances, which it did after taking a 1-0 first period lead on Brandon Saad's 16th goal at 9:25.
The Predators took command in the second period, in which they've outscored opponents 61-32 on the season. It started late in a power play as Jarnkrok was left all alone in front of Sergei Bobrovsky and beat him with a wrister that tipped off the top of his glove and found the top right corner at 5:41.
The Blue Jackets challenged the goal on the basis of offsides, but after a lengthy review, the officials in Toronto judged the replay to be inconclusive.
"It's unfortunate," Shaw said. "We felt that puck was in the zone, but there's no replay that shows that's offsides."
There was no debating the tie-breaking goal, as Zolnierczyk tallied for the first time since Feb. 5, 2014 with a supreme effort. Following up his first shot, Zolnierczyk jabbed at the puck and squeezed it just across the goal line at 9:01 for a 2-1 lead.
Smith, who entered the third period with one goal in his previous 27 games, took care of things from there with two in just over five minutes. He made it 3-1 at 6:03, pouncing on the rebound of Mattias Ekholm's backhand wraparound and scoring from point-blank range.
Zack Werenski's wrister off Pekka Rinne's glove at 9:12 drew Columbus within 3-2, but Smith answered again with a pretty goal. Sailing down the right side, Smith got to the bottom of the right faceoff circle and ripped a wrister that beat Bobrovsky (28-9-2) short-side for his ninth goal at 11:18.
"These are really important games for us after the road trip," Smith said, referencing Nashville's 4-1-0 West Coast trip from Jan. 14-22. "It's good to get rewarded."
Defenseman Matt Murray pulled the Blue Jackets within a goal with his first marker of the year after replay revealed his shot squirted over the goal line, but that was it. Even after pulling Bobrovsky with 1:52 left for a sixth attacker, Columbus couldn't manage a shot on net.
Pekka Rinne (19-12-6) stopped 30 of 33 shots in winning for the fifth time in his last six starts. Bobrovsky made 28 saves.
"I thought we did a good job, didn't give them too much," said Rinne. "They were skating hard at the beginning of the game, but the second period and the first half of the third, we were the stronger team."
-- Columbus RW Cam Atkinson, who's second in the NHL with 24 goals, was added to the Metropolitan Division's All-Star team Thursday as a replacement for Pittsburgh's Evgeny Malkin.
-- Nashville LW Harry Zolnierczyk drew back into the lineup after being scratched Tuesday night, skating on the fourth line with Cody McLeod and Colton Sissons.
-- The Blue Jackets scratched LW Markus Hannikainen, D Dalton Prout and D Markus Nutivaara.
-- Predators scratches included C Mike Ribeiro, D Brad Hunt and C Derek Grant.