SUN Hockey Pool

Pekka picks 'em

Nashville goalie Pekka RInne juggles the puck in the second period during action between the...

Nashville goalie Pekka RInne juggles the puck in the second period during action between the visiting Nashville Predators and the Calgary Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome. (JIM WELLS/ SUN MEDIA)

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

Had they dropped this one, the Nashville Predators would have fallen 10 points back of the Edmonton Oilers in the standings, and more than likely, out of the playoff race.

Yet, backstopped by a strong goaltending performance from Pekka Rinne, the Predators were able to pull out a 2-1 win in a rare matinee at Rexall Place, climbing to within six points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"We're trying to claw ourselves back into the (playoff) group," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. "Getting two out of three in Canada on this trip is pretty tough, but we were able to beat the two teams that we are really realistically chasing in Vancouver and Edmonton.

"I thought we played a good road game and got a couple of big saves at the end and that was the difference."

Rinne made 32 saves, one of his best at the end, as he kicked out a last-second Sheldon Souray attempt to preserve the win.

J.P. Dumont, on a gift from Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert and Martin Erat, scored the Predators goals.

HEADED HOME

"It was a huge win for us, we need all the points we can get," Rinne said. "It was a good way to end the road trip. Now we can go home and play a couple of home games. I think we've been playing a little bit better of late, so it's looking better."

Having struggled to score all season with the second-lowest goal total in the league, the Predators are banking on strong goaltending performances to get them back into the playoff hunt.

Yesterday, Rinne was busy early as the Oilers attempted to take the game to the visitors. He then came up big again late as the Oilers tried to rally.

"He has been really solid for us and I thought our penalty killers did a really good job," Trotz said. "I've been watching the Oilers power play and it's really, really dangerous. I thought our penalty killers were huge, especially in the key moments of the game."

The Oilers had three power-play opportunities, one of the penalties having been assessed to Rinne in the third for inadvertently smacking Andrew Cogliano in the nose.

At the time the Oilers were down a goal and pressing for the equalizer.

"I didn't do it on purpose," Rinne said. "They have a pretty good power play, but the guys did a great job killing that penalty and it made it easier for me."

Only Ales Hemsky was able to beat Rinne yesterday, wiring a one-time over his shoulder in the third period when the Predators were already up by a couple of goals.

The goal was Hemsky's sixth since getting back in to the lineup five games ago, after suffering a concussion compliments of Predators winger Jordin Tootoo in their last encounter.

HEMSKY STRIKES

"That was unbelievable, he has so much skill, it's ridiculous," Rinne said. "Some of the moves he made tonight were unbelievable. He's able to play with the puck when it's in his skates, he's able to shoot the puck when it's in his skates, he's always so dangerous. On the goal, I felt that I had got across pretty well, but he was just able to get it over my blocker. It was an unbelievable shot to get it away from that position."

Ethan Moreau also had a number of quality chances to score, but despite firing a season-high nine shots on net, the Oilers captain could not find the back of the net.

Coming in, the Predators had defeated the Vancouver Canucks and lost to the Calgary Flames on their three-game Western Canadian swing.

They'll now return to play six of their next eight at home.

"We wanted to come out and weather the storm and I thought we were able to do that," said Predators centre Jerred Smithson. "Getting that first goal was huge for us. Now we get a chance to go home, we've had a fairly tough schedule here and now going back home we have to try to make hay.

"We have to try and grab points whenever we can. It's going to be a battle from here on in, which is probably a good thing."


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