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The Nashville Predators were able to remain atop the Central Division while starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun recovered from a hand injury. It will now be his job to keep them there.
Vokoun is expected to make his first appearance since Nov. 23 when Nashville meets the Anaheim Ducks at Gaylord Entertainment Center on Tuesday in a matchup between division leaders.
The Predators' all-time wins leader, Vokoun made 21 saves in the first two periods of a 6-0 win over Vancouver on Nov. 23 before leaving with an injured hand. Four days later, he underwent surgery to repair ligament damage to his left thumb.
"From all indications (Vokoun) is ready to go," Predators (28-11-3) coach Barry Trotz said Monday on the Tenneseean's Web site. "I think everybody is looking forward to seeing Tomas in there. At the same time, they recognize that the Ducks are the best in the West right now, so it will be no small task for us as a group."
Vokoun, a 2004 All-Star, was 11-4-1 with a 2.48 goals-against average and one shutout in 16 games before suffering his second major injury in seven months. He missed the final eight games of the 2005-06 season and Nashville's postseason appearance with a blood clotting condition.
While Vokoun recovered from hand surgery, Chris Mason started each game, going 14-6-1 with a 2.31 GAA. Despite relying on a goaltender that had made just 30 starts over four seasons coming into this season, the Predators have 59 points - four more than second-place Detroit in the Central and just five behind Western Conference-leading Anaheim (29-9-6).
With Vokoun in uniform but watching from the bench, Mason stopped 35 shots and J.P. Dumont scored a power-play goal with 4:12 left in regulation to give Nashville its 13th straight win over St. Louis, 3-2 on Saturday.
Jason Arnott and Vernon Fiddler also scored, and rookie Alexander Radulov had two assists as the Predators won for the 10th time in 13 games.
Anaheim is dealing with injuries as well, most notably to goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and defenseman Chris Pronger.
Giguere, third in the league with 23 wins, has missed five games after suffering a groin injury Dec. 26 in a 4-3 win over San Jose. Pronger, a former Hart and Norris Trophy winner who is second on the Ducks in scoring with 40 points, broke his foot Dec. 31 in a 4-3 loss to Minnesota and likely will not be back until sometime next month.
Giguere made 21 saves, Chris Kunitz had a goal and three assists and Teemu Selanne added two goals and an assist in the Ducks' 4-0 win over the Predators on Dec. 6 in the teams' lone meeting this season.
The Ducks got some unlikely contributions as they beat Detroit 4-2 on Sunday to snap a season-high four-game losing streak.
Bjorn Melin scored in his NHL debut, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 33 saves for his first win in more than two months. The victory came one game after Anaheim wasted a three-goal lead by allowing four third-period goals in a 4-3 loss to Columbus on Friday.
"Our message after that game was that the only way we were going to be able to prevent what happened from continuing on was to have 20 guys give us our best 60 minutes," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "They made a commitment to do that, and that was all part of the process - not focus on the negative spiral that we've been in, but to focus on how to get out of it collectively."
The Ducks have alternated losses and wins in their last eight visits to Nashville.
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