NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Lasers, muffins, they all count if they cross the goal line.
Mattias Ekholm scored a pair of second-period goals to lead the Nashville Predators to a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.
Predators forward Filip Forsberg, who assisted on Ekholm’s first goal, called that one a “laser,” and the second one a “muffin.”
“That was a pretty good explanation,” Ekholm said. “I thought the first one was pretty much where I wanted it, and the second was one of those you just throw there at the net … call it a muffin, call it whatever, but happy it went in.”
Juuse Saros made 29 saves for Nashville, a winner of three of the last four games. Saros earned his first victory since Jan. 27. Saros’ fellow Finn Pekka Rinne has taken a larger share of the goaltending duties for Nashville in the month of February.
“We looked good in my eyes,” Saros said. “We played with speed and we were solid defensively, so overall, a good game from the whole team.”
Cam Atkinson scored the lone goal and Joonas Korpisalo made 31 saves for Columbus, losers of four straight.
“We just have to make more plays,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “We just gave the puck away when there were some plays to be made there.”
Atkinson scored the game’s first goal. From just inside the Nashville blue line, Predators forward Rocco Grimaldi turned over the puck under pressure from Jack Roslovic. The puck came to Boone Jenner on the left side and just outside the crease, he slid a pass to Atkinson for an easy tap-in for his team-leading ninth goal of the season.
“I thought we had a pretty good first period,” Atkinson said. “We made a push towards the end there. For whatever reason, it seems like there’s like 10 minutes in the second period every game that we just kind of take our foot off the gas pedal and that’s when bad things happen to us.”
Back in the lineup after recovering from an injury, Ekholm tied the game early in the second period with a slap shot from the left point through traffic for his first goal of the season and Ekholm’s 200th career point.
“It was nice to see him back,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “He had a lot of energy, he looked good, so it’s nice to see that he’s recovered from his injury well.”
Ekholm struck again late in the second, this time with a wrist shot from the left point through traffic. That made for the first multi-goal game of Ekholm’s 551-game NHL career.
Ekholm returned to the Nashville lineup after missing the last six games with a lower-body injury. Ekholm was injured in the Feb. 9 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, seeing just 11:29 of ice time and not playing in that match’s third period. Saturday was just the fifth game Ekholm played in February. He missed the game the day before he was injured against the Lightning due to the birth of his second child.
“Mentally and physically, it’s always great to have him there,” Saros said. “He brings a lot of support for the whole team and, of course, the game he plays, it’s great. It’s hard to replace a guy like that, so it’s nice to have him back.”
FINALLY, A LEAD AFTER TWO
Entering Saturday, the Predators were the only team in the NHL not to take a lead into the third period this season. Nashville’s dreadful second-period goal differential through their first 19 games played a large part: Prior to Ekholm’s pair of second-period goals, the Predators had been outscored 25-6 in the middle period this season.
This was the 48th meeting between the Predators and Blue Jackets in Nashville. Saturday’s victory gave Nashville its 38th win in those matchups. The Predators now hold a 4-1 advantage over the Blue Jackets this season, three of those victories coming in Nashville.
The teams return to Bridgestone Arena on Sunday afternoon to wrap up their back-to-back series. This will complete the fourth of nine back-to-back sets for both the Blue Jackets and the Predators.
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