BUFFALO, N.Y. — Ryan Johansen scored the go-ahead goal 6:32 into the third period, and the Nashville Predators stayed in the hunt for the Central Division title with a 3-2 win over the slumping Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
P.K. Subban had a goal and an assist and Craig Smith also scored as Nashville moved two points ahead of idle St. Louis for second place in the division. The Predators began the day two points behind Central-leading Winnipeg.
Pekka Rinne stopped 26 shots in a game Nashville never trailed. The Predators improved to 6-2-1 in their past nine and 45-29-6 overall in reaching the 45-win mark for the fifth time in 10 years.
Jeff Skinner got his career-best 38th goal and Kyle Okposo also scored for Buffalo, which dropped to 0-7-1 in its past eight. The skid is the Sabres’ longest since dropping 14 in a row from Dec. 29, 2014, to Jan. 30, 2015. Buffalo also dropped to 1-13-2 in its past 16.
Carter Hutton finished with 32 saves.
Hutton had little chance on Johansen’s goal. After getting a piece of Viktor Arvidsson’s shot to his left, Hutton was out of position when the puck caromed off the end boards to Johansen, who backhanded a shot into the open side.
Subban made an impressive play to put the Predators up 2-1 in the opening minute of the second period.
Sabres rookie defenceman Rasmus Dahlin skated through the neutral zone and attempted to flip the puck off the boards and into the Predators’ zone. Subban, however, batted the puck out the air to set himself up for a breakaway up the right wing. He then blasted a shot from the circle that beat Hutton inside the far post.
The Sabres were on the wrong end of two key rulings.
First, the Sabres questioned why Smith’s opening goal 8:49 into the first was allowed to stand after he appeared to deflect in Subban’s shot from the blue line with a high stick. The NHL upheld the goal by ruling it was inconclusive whether the puck struck Smith’s stick as opposed to his glove, while standing in front.
Then, with Buffalo trailing 2-1, Sabres forward Conor Sheary scored by converting a rebound after Rinne stopped Sam Reinhart 2:40 into the second. The goal was disallowed because the play was whistled dead on a delayed penalty call against Nashville even though no Predators player appeared to have control of the puck.
Buffalo eventually tied it at 2 when Skinner scored with 5 seconds left in the second. Brandon Montour’s shot from the right point sailed wide and caromed off the end board and directly to Skinner, who flipped it into the open left side. Skinner snapped an eight-game goal drought and scored for just the second time in his past 22.
NOTES: Predators LW Austin Watson returned for the first time since he was suspended by the NHL more than two months ago for alcohol abuse. Watson missed 27 games with Nashville and had four goals in two games during a conditioning stint with AHL Milwaukee before being recalled Sunday. … Sabres D Marco Scandella will miss the final week with a lower-body injury.
Predators: Host Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
Sabres: Close home schedule against Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
John Wawrow, The Associated Press