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Published January 27, 2017
The Nashville Predators won't mind the weekend off for the All-Star break. They just hope they can pick up next week where they left off.
The Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves looking for some answers.
Craig Smith tied his career high by scoring two goals in the third period, and the Predators held off Columbus 4-3 Thursday night in the final outing for both teams before the All-Star Game.
Nashville goes into the break 7-1-1 over its last nine.
"Oh, it's huge. It's a big difference, instead of losing this game and going to break," Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "It's a nice feeling. You can really relax and not think about hockey. Get a few days off and recharge your batteries a little bit. Come back and be refreshed for the last stretch."
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.
"I wish I had all the answers, but I don't," said Seth Jones, Columbus' All-Star defenseman.
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 Rinne made save after save for Nashville. The Blue Jackets' last shot came just as the horn sounded.
Even with Tortorella missing, the Blue Jackets still have right wing Cam Atkinson, added Thursday to the All-Star Game in place of Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, joining Jones and Bobrovsky for the festivities in Los Angeles. Against the Predators, assistant coaches Brad Larsen and Brad Shaw took over for Tortorella.
"I think once the game starts, I don't think it really has much effect," Shaw said. "We're pretty much plugged in on lines and assignments. I think if you went there with nobody behind the bench, I think it would probably pretty much run itself, unfortunately. I hope that doesn't put any coaches out of work."
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.
"It is good to see him get going," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.
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. ... 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.