Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jonas Holos, center, of Norway, swats at the puck against Nashville Predators center Jerred Smithson, left, in the first period of their NHL hockey game in Denver on Thursday, March 31, 2011. Avalanche goalie Brian Elliott (30) looks on. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
DENVER - The surging Nashville Predators gave themselves a little breathing room in the Western Conference playoff race.
Pekka Rinne made 27 saves and the Predators beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Thursday night to pass Anaheim, jumping from seventh place into a tie for fifth with Los Angeles with four games left.
Martin Erat had a goal and an assist and Colin Wilson and Jordin Tootoo also scored to help the Predators win for the ninth time in 11 games.
"It's been an amazing season how tight it's been," Rinne said. "You feel sharp and feel fresh all the time because there's so much on the table."
The Predators could keep climbing. They moved within four points of Central Division-leading Detroit and host the Red Wings on Saturday. Detroit has lost five of its last six, including a 10-3 home loss to St. Louis on Wednesday night.
"The Red Wings seem to bring the best out of us and our fans," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "They're not going to be a happy crew. They'll bring their 'A' game."
The Predators had their 'A' game for most of Thursday night and looked as if they would cruise to an easy win against a struggling team. The Avalanche got goals from Paul Stastny and David Jones, and Brian Elliott made 31 saves, but it wasn't enough for Colorado, which is 3-22-2 in its last 27 games. Three of those losses have come against Nashville, which swept the season series.
"They're not unbelievable at one thing, they're really good at everything," Stastny said.
The Predators took a 3-0 lead when Erat scored on the power play with 7:08 left, his 16th goal of the season, and then had to survive a late rally by the Avalanche.
Stastny scored his 22nd goal with 6:25 left to make it 3-1, and Elliott left for an extra skater and Jones scored with 1:02 left to make it a one-goal game.
"We played good in the first two periods and we let it slide in the last six minutes of the third," Erat said.
Elliott again was pulled in the final minute but Colorado couldn't get the tying goal.
"They got it going in the third period and we kind of sat back after our third goal," Rinne said. "Even though it got close we did a good job at the end."
Coming close wasn't a consolation for the Avalanche.
"We've lost two in a row by one goal," Matt Duchene said. "We're just making mistakes at the wrong time right now and it's eating us alive."
Wilson got the Predators on the board first with his 16th goal of the season. Matt Halischuk sent a pass from behind the goal to Wilson, who deflected it over Elliot's right shoulder with 4:25 left in the first period.
The Predators dominated the second period, outshooting the Avalanche 18-5 in the frame and keeping the play in Colorado's end for a good portion of the 20 minutes.
They finally cashed in when Tootoo made it 2-0 midway through the period. Tootoo positioned himself in the slot and redirected Cody Franson's shot from the point past Elliott for his sixth goal of the season.
"In the second period I thought we played really well and came at them hard," Trotz said.
Now they turn their attention to the Red Wings with a chance to catch them for the division title.
"We seem to always have good matchups against Detroit and it's always fun to play against them," Rinne said. "It should be an exciting one."
NOTES: Tootoo left the game in the second period after getting checked into the boards and didn't return. Trotz said he should play Saturday. ... The Avalanche recalled defenceman Cameron Gaunce from Lake Erie of the American Hockey League and reassigned Shawn Belle to the Monsters. ... The first penalty wasn't called until Jones went off for tripping with 8:27 left in the second period. Nashville took its only penalty after the game ended.