Hockey's Music City Miracle dooms Wild as Predators rally late to win
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - For 50 minutes or so, it looked like the makings of an inspiring win. Or a sure sign that things were headed back in the right direction for the Minnesota Wild. With Dany Heatley scoring twice, the Wild built a 4-1 lead on the Nashville Predators and looked to be cruising to a third consecutive win.
Then, in something akin to hockey's version of the Music City Miracle, it all went away in the blink of an eye. The Predators scored four goals in the last 11-plus minutes, including an ugly game-winner with 20.8 seconds left, beating the Wild 5-4.
"Have you ever been punched in the stomach really hard?" Wild coach Mike Yeo asked rhetorically. "That's pretty much what that one feels like."
With Niklas Backstrom under a weighty contract and holding a no-trade clause, and Matthew Hackett playing well in Houston and in a few stints with the Wild, goalie Josh Harding has been mentioned as a potential tradable asset. As he sat slumped in his stall after this loss, Harding, who had 25 saves, looked like a trade would be OK with him, and he'd rather be anyplace else but here.
"That's probably a goalie's worst nightmare right there," Harding said, after the winning goal slid between his knees, via a weak shot from the boards. "Just inexcusable. I lost this one for the team. That's going to probably sting here for a while."
The loss came on a night where for so much of the game, things looked like a return to the dominant form the Wild had displayed while winning seven in a row after Thanksgiving. Heatley was everywhere early, making the Predators pay twice for leaving him open in front of the net to give the Wild a 2-0 lead.
The Wild also scored early in both the second and third periods, seemingly snuffing any life out of Nashville's hopes for a comeback. And then, like another switch had been flipped, the life went out of Minnesota's game.
"Obviously with that lead, and to lose in regulation is tough, but I thought for the majority of the game we played very well and did a lot of good things," said Heatley, who notched his 60th career game with multiple goals.
The Wild seemed to have flipped a switch early, and dominated play until the midway point of the third period despite playing a Predators team that had won nine of its previous 10 games. But the Preds found another gear late, and after a scramble in front produced a goal that made it 4-2, Patrick Hornqvist and Mike Fisher scored 21 seconds apart on plays where the Wild's defensive resistance was minimal, to tie the game.
"We looked completely out of gas," said Yeo, referencing the All-Star break. "Still, it's no excuse. (Nashville) had the same amount of time off. You see the way that our gap was once we got up 4-1. I've never seen us laying on the ice as much as we were, trying to defend. In the D zone we weren't pressuring at all."
• 14: Goals scored by Kyle Brodziak this season, after his tap-in on the first shift of the third period made it 4-1 for the Wild. He needs two more to match his career high.
• 3: Consecutive games with a goal by Heatley.
• 10-0-0: Predators goalie Pekka Rinne's record in his last 10 starts.
• 12/01/08: The last time the Wild scored four or more goals at home and lost in regulation, a 6-5 setback to the Avalanche.
Guillaume Latendresse and Mikko Koivu both skated this week and both will accompany the Wild on their upcoming three-game road trip. Koivu is reportedly closer to a return than any of the other missing forwards.
Wild - Dany Heatley 16 (Johnson), 8:04
Wild - Heatley 17 (Cullen), 12:36, PPG
Wild - Cal Clutterbuck 13 (Cullen, Falk), 1:29
Predators - Matt Halischuk 12 (Klein, Yip), 9:33
Wild - Kyle Brodziak 14 (Johnson, Heatley), 0:16
Predators - Brandon Yip 1 (Halischuk, Smith), 9:22
Predators - Patrick Hornqvist 15 (Kostitsyn, Weber), 16:39
Predators - Mike Fisher 13 (Wilson, Erat), 17:00
Predators - Fisher 14 (unassisted), 19:39
Shots: Wild 11-7-7-25; Predators 10-8-12-30. Saves: Wild, Josh Harding (25-30); Predators, Pekka Rinne (21-25). Power plays: Wild 1-for-1, Predators 0-1.
The Wild will carry a light load to their road game in Denver on Thursday. Their last road game, a 3-2 win on Jan. 24, was in Colorado versus the Avalanche, and the equipment managers left several bags of gear, and the team's road sweaters, at the Pepsi Center. It's the start of a three-game road swing in which they'll also visit Dallas and Columbus before their next home game. Step one on the road trip will be trying to erase the last home game from memory.
"It's a good test for our team. We have to just forget about it," Heatley said.