Neal’s hat trick leads Predators past Oilers

James Neal had his sixth career hat trick, scoring all three goals for the Nashville Predators in their 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.

EDMONTON — It didn’t take long for the Nashville Predators to start producing points again.

One game after suffering their first regulation-time loss following a franchise-record 14-game point streak, James Neal recorded a hat trick as the Predators came away with a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday.

“It was good to pull out a big win, because points are so crucial at this point in the season, you have to play good hockey,” Neal said.

Calle Jarnkrok added a pair of assists for the Predators (35-22-13), who have earned points in 15 of their last 16 games to take full control of the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

“I thought our guys played really hard tonight,” said Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette. “James (Neal) had some nice shots tonight and he’s been pretty steady all year. Now other guys are starting to contribute here in the second half of the year. We’re starting to get scoring from different lines and from the other forwards on a consistent basis and obviously, that’s going to help in the outcome.”

Jordan Eberle and Iiro Pakarinen replied for the Oilers (27-38-7), who have lost two straight.

“We don’t want moral victories, we want to win games,” Eberle said. “It’s still not enough. We’ve got to find ways to win these games — tie game going into the third period — we need to find a way to get the puck to the net and bang one home.”

Edmonton started the scoring seven minutes into the contest as Connor McDavid picked off a pass at the blue line and sent it in front to Eberle for the tap-in past Nashville starter Pekka Rinne. The Oilers had failed to score in their previous two home games.

Just over a minute later, however, the Predators responded as Neal came in on a breakaway and calmly sent his 24th goal of the season through the legs of Edmonton goalie Laurent Brossoit.

Edmonton regained the lead just 31 seconds into the middle period as Leon Draisaitl sent a backhand pass from behind the net to set up a Pakarinen goal. But just 20 seconds later it was knotted up again as Neal used a screen to score his second of the game.

“It’s tough. It sucks the energy right out of the building,” said Oilers forward Zack Kassian of allowing the Predators two quick bounce-back goals. “We’re at home, we want to use the crowd to our advantage and when those things happen it sucks the crowd right out of it. It’s something we can’t allow to happen.”

Nashville made it 3-2 four minutes into the third period, as Neal beat Brossoit cleanly on a wrist shot to record his sixth career hat trick.

Edmonton had some chances in a late flurry with Brossoit pulled, but Nashville was able to keep the Oilers from sending the game to extra time.

The Oilers remain at home to face the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, while the Predators next host the New York Islanders on Thursday.

Notes: Nashville swept the season series between the two teams this year, winning all three games. Brossoit made his fourth career NHL start. Out with injuries for the Predators were Gabriel Bourque (upper body), Paul Gaustad (upper body) and Eric Nystrom (broken foot). Missing from the Oilers lineup were Oscar Klefbom (foot), Andrew Ference (hip), Brandon Davidson (knee), Benoit Pouliot (shoulder), Eric Gryba (knee), Adam Pardy (undisclosed) and Darnell Nurse, who served the final game of a three-game suspension.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.