Blue Jackets look to end 2009 on a winning note

STATS Senior Writer

(AP) — The Nashville Predators have had problems in the third period during this three-game Central Division road trip. They rarely have had trouble, however, closing out games against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Predators look to improve to 4-0 against the last-place Blue Jackets this season as they conclude their trip Thursday night.

Nashville (23-14-3) gave up four goals in the third period in Sunday’s 5-4 loss at Chicago that opened this stretch and pushed its losing streak to three. The Predators bounced back Tuesday with a 4-3 win at St. Louis, but it didn’t come easy.

J.P. Dumont and Marcel Goc each had a goal and an assist as Nashville took a 4-1 lead early in the final period. The Blues responded with two goals in a 3:22 span to make it a one-goal game and set up a tense finish, outshooting the Predators 12-4 in the third.

“They kept coming and coming you know you have to give credit to those guys,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “They played hard, they battled hard to the end, but I think we managed the game really well even though we were under the pressure. Our guys did a great job.”

Rinne finished with 24 saves to improve to 5-1-1 on the road despite a 3.37 goals-against average. Defenseman Shea Weber ended a five-game drought without a point with three assists.

“It was intense,” Weber said. “There were body checks, guys sticking up for each other, a good flow both ways. They came back, we had the momentum early. They got it back in the third period and made it close.”

The rivalry with Columbus (15-18-8) has often been intense, although it’s also been one-sided in favor of Nashville recently. The Predators are 21-2-2 against the Blue Jackets since 2006-07.

Nashville has beaten Columbus twice in shootouts at home this season and ended a three-game skid at Nationwide Arena as Steve Sullivan had a hat trick in a 5-3 victory Dec. 14. That was a familiar sight to Blue Jackets fans since they’re the only Western Conference team he has averaged more than a point per game against – totaling 43 (16 goals, 27 assists) in 39 contests.

Columbus has struggled to contain Martin Erat, who has two goals and two assists against the Blue Jackets this season. Erat has 10 goals and eight assists in 16 games this month.

Rinne is 4-1 with a 3.11 GAA in his career against Columbus.

The Blue Jackets ended a franchise-worst nine-game skid with a 1-0 overtime home win over Detroit on Monday before reverting to their losing ways the next night with a 2-1 shootout road loss to the Islanders. Columbus outshot New York 42-25, and R.J. Umberger scored the lone goal.

It marked the fourth straight game in which the Blue Jackets have scored once. They have 10 goals in their last eight games.

“We’re playing better defensively and that’s huge for this team,” Umberger said. “For so long we struggled giving up 5-6 goals. We scored so many but we couldn’t keep that pace up. The defense is getting there and we have to build off it.”