- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - After the Columbus Blue Jackets fought back from a two-goal deficit to tie the score early in the third period, the Nashville Predators kept up their intensity and Mattias Ekholm got them a win.

Ekholm scored his third goal of the season when he snapped off a shot from the slot after being set up nicely by Filip Forsberg 9:09 into the third, and the Predators held on for a 4-3 victory Sunday night.

Backup goalie Juuse Saros stopped 35 shots in his sixth win of the season, and Nashville improved its position in a crowded race for the two Western Conference wild cards.

“I liked the way that we stayed with it and got better as the game went on,” coach Peter Laviolette said.

Ryan Ellis, Kevin Fiala and Calle Jarnkrok also scored for the Predators, who never trailed. James Neal and P.K. Subban each had a pair of assists.

Zach Werenski had a goal and two assists for Columbus, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 28 saves. Brandon Saad and Oliver Bjorkstrand also scored for the Blue Jackets, who lost for the first time in three games. Seth Jones and Alexander Wennberg had two assists apiece.

“I thought we had some good minutes,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “I thought we crawled back into it.”

Ellis opened the scoring 2:24 into the game with a one-timer from just below the blue line. He got an assist from fellow defenseman Roman Josi, who set him up with a nice pass from right point.

Columbus got plenty of promising looks in the first period and outshot Nashville 19-7, including four shots on a power play, but couldn’t hit the back of the net.

“(Saros) was really good when we needed him to be,” Laviolette said. “When we weren’t at our sharpest in the first period, I thought he was extremely sharp and gave us an opportunity to stay in that game.”

A pair of Columbus mistakes led to the Predators‘ second goal 9:38 into the second period. Trying to clear the puck from the Blue Jackets zone, Wennberg sent a pass that bounced off Mike Fisher’s skate right in front of Fiala in the slot. Bobrovsky dove for the puck and missed, leaving the net wide open for Fiala .

Less than a minute later - just after a key save by Bobrovsky on Craig Smith’s breakaway - Saad got his first goal in nine games when he redirected Jones’ wrister from the right point to make it 2-1.

Nashville went up by two again when Jarnkrok punched in a rebound with 4:20 left in the period. Bjorkstrand answered two minutes later, slamming a shot between Saros’ pads from the right circle to make it 3-2 at the second intermission.

Werenski tied it 3:41 into the third period with a wrister from the right circle. That set up the game-winner by Ekholm.

“It’s just big to be able to get in a building like this with a team that’s really playing lights out this year and be able to come back,” Ekholm said. “For us it’s a big confidence boost to know we can play like this on the road. But we can’t take our foot off the gas one bit.”

NOTES: Columbus forward Scott Hartnell returned after missing two games with a lower-body injury sustained when he crashed into the boards on Monday. … Fiala was recalled from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on Saturday. … Werenski had a career-high three points. He had three goals and seven assists in the past 13 games. … Predators C Ryan Johansen played at Columbus for the first time since being traded for Jones in January 2016. … Columbus rookie C Lukas Sedlak was out with an injury sustained Friday against Pittsburgh.


Predators: Host the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night.

Blue Jackets: Host the New York Islanders on Saturday after returning from their five-day break.


Follow Mitch Stacy at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

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