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Predators move to 7-1-1 in last nine games

By Teresa M. Walker

Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. — Craig Smith scored two goals in the third period, and the Nashville Predators held off the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 Thursday night in the final game for both teams before the All-Star break.

Columbus coach John Tortorella left the team before the game, returning home for a personal matter that will cause him to miss All-Star weekend. His assistants filled in for him, but the Blue Jackets dropped to 5-7-0 since their 16-game winning streak.

Brandon Saad gave Columbus a 1-0 lead in the first period. Zach Werenski and Ryan Murray scored in the third as the Blue Jackets tried to rally.

Calle Jarnkrok and Harry Zolnierczyk also scored for Nashville, and Mike Fisher had two assists.

Columbus pulled goalie Sergei Bobrovsky late, but Pekka Rinne made save after save for Nashville. The Blue Jackets’ last shot came after the horn sounded.

Nashville goes into the break 7-1-1 over its last nine games.

Even with Tortorella missing, the Blue Jackets will still have right wing Cam Atkinson, added Thursday to the All-Star Game in place of Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, joining defenseman Seth Jones and Bobrovsky for the festivities in Los Angeles.

Against the Predators, assistant coaches Brad Larsen and Brad Shaw took over for Tortorella. Columbus went up 1-0 when Saad scored his 16th of the season nearly midway through the first period with a wrister as he skated across the high slot, beating a screened Rinne.

The Predators tied it at 5:41 of the second with eight seconds left on their second power play. Colin Wilson made a nice pass to Jarnkrok, who beat Bobrovsky glove side. Columbus challenged the goal, arguing Nashville was offside. After a long review, officials ruled the replay inconclusive and the goal stood.

Nashville went up 2-1 at 9:01 when Zolnierczyk scored on a backhand from right in front for his first goal with the Predators.

The Predators padded their lead at 6:03 of the third when Smith brought the puck into the offensive zone, skated around the net and beat Bobrovsky with a backhand for his eighth this season.

With the teams skating 4-on-4, Werenski’s shot from the left circle went off Rinne’s glove and over the line to pull Columbus to 3-2 at 9:12 of the third. Smith answered with his second of the period 2:06 later, squeezing the puck between Bobrovsky and the left post for a 4-2 lead.

Murray squeezed a puck past Rinne with 2:49 left for his first, a play that was ruled a goal following a video review.

NOTES: Predators center Ryan Johansen skated in his 400th NHL game against the team that traded him to Nashville in January 2016. … The Predators are outshooting opponents an NHL-best 61-32 in the second period. … Columbus has given up four power-play goals on 37 chances in the past 13 games. … Nashville improved to 17-0-4 when leading after two periods.


Blue Jackets: Visit the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

Predators: Visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.