Thrashers fall behind early, lose to Predators 4-3

The Predators captain scored seven seconds into the third period for a 4-3 victory over the Thrashers Saturday at the Sommet Center.

The Predators, who lost two two-goal leads, snapped their own five-game losing streak and the Thrashers’ two-game winning streak. They were the beneficiaries of several defensive breakdowns by the Thrashers.

“Mostly, it was blown coverage,” Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “Total disregard for what we’re supposed to be doing and they end up in the net. That was pretty much it.”

Before Arnott’s final-period goal, the Predators took an early 2-0 lead, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes of the game. This was despite arriving in Nashville early Saturday morning after losing in Detroit Friday night and the Thrashers waiting in the city for a full day.

“Two bone-head plays at the start of the game,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said. “When a team comes off playing the night before, they are usually sharper. We were not sharp tonight. It’s as simple as that.”

Arnott’s game-winner came on a breakaway after the Predators won the period-opening faceoff.

“They have a good set play right from the faceoff where Arnott releases,” Thrashers goaltender Johan Hedberg said. “He got a breakaway right away and finished it off with a good quick shot.”

The Thrashers (24-22-8, 56 points) lost some ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They are tied for seventh place in the conference with Montreal after Saturday afternoon games. Philadelphia moved one point ahead of the Thrashers with a win and Montreal pulled even with an overtime loss.

Ilya Kovalchuk had a breakaway of his own midway through the third period, but was stopped by Predators’ goaltender Pekka Rinne.

“Their guys scored on his breakaway and we didn’t score on ours,” Anderson said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The teams entered the final period tied 3-3.

Joel Ward and Jerred Smithson scored 5:28 apart in the first period to put the Predators up. Before the game was 10 minutes old, the Thrashers trailed 2-0.

“I usually find that the team that has played the night before usually has a little more jump, only because they are still in game mode,” Anderson said Saturday morning. “Whereas the other team is thinking it won’t be that bad. Now, all of a sudden, the first 10 minutes becomes more about the team that played the night before.”

How prophetic.

On Ward’s goal, Martin Erat split between Hainsey and Zach Bogosian and put a shot on Hedberg. After making the initial stop, the puck popped into the air and Ward knocked it in.

“The first goal, I’ve got to have it,” said Hedberg, who stopped 27-of-31 shots. “It’s a bad play by me.”

Bryan Little scored the first of his two goals with a power-play goal at the 13:57 mark. The goal came just seven seconds after Nashville’s Francis Bouillon was called for holding. It was Little’s first goal in nine games.

The Thrashers came roaring back with two goals of their own in the second period.

After killing off 1:24 of a 5-on-3 two-man disadvantage and having Evander Kane’s apparent game-tying goal nullified, the Predators took a 3-1 lead on Erat’s goal at the 11:12 mark.

Kane had a breakaway down the center of the ice and beat Rinne with a wrist shot. However, well behind the play Jim Slater and Steve Sullivan were pushing and shoving. The official’s whistle blew just before Kane scored. Slater and Sullivan were given roughing penalties.

“I have no reaction,” Anderson said. “I can’t make him not blow the whistle. I don’t think he was aware we had a breakaway. What’s happening down at our end really doesn’t matter but the play, right? We have a breakaway. Does it really freakin’ matter?”

Midway through the second, Chris Thorburn pulled the Thrashers within a goal, 3-2, with a short-handed tally. Marty Reasoner intercepted a cross-ice pass and raced in on Rinne, who made an initial save. However, Thorburn followed the play and knocked the rebound in. It was his fourth goal of the season and third short-handed.

Little evened the score at the 15:03 mark with his second goal. Kovalchuk took a shot that bounced off Rinne’s pad. Little gathered the rebounded, made a move to get the goaltender out of position and knocked in his eighth of the season.

“It’s been pretty frustrating this year,” Little said. “I haven’t been contributing that way I’d like to. I felt good and hopefully it gives me confidence. I need it right now.”

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