Third period rally lifts Wild to win over Nashville, NHL's best mark
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St. Paul, Minn. - If you left after the second period on Wednesday to get home and make the stuffing, with the Minnesota Wild trailing the Nashville Predators 1-0, you missed all the fun.
The Wild scored even-strength, short-handed and power play goals in the final 20 minutes en route to a 3-2 win over Nashville. It was the fifth consecutive win for the Wild, which maintained a healthy five-point lead over Edmonton in the Northwest Division.
At 13-5-3, with 29 points, the Wild currently have the best mark in the NHL, not that it's attracting much in the way of national attention. With comebacks in Pittsburgh leading all of the hockey news this week, the Wild are flying high but definitely flying under the radar. And to the players, that's perfect.
"That's fine with us. That's no problem," said Cal Clutterbuck. "Let Sidney Crosby do his thing, and we'll do ours."
Down by a goal for roughly two-thirds of the game, after the Wild dominated early but saw the Preds score the only goal of the first 40 minutes, there was a palpable sense of frustration among the crowd of nearly 17,000, as the home club controlled play for much of the second period. But for all of that possession, shots on goal were relatively rare, and goals were non-existent. Thankfully, the frustration didn't carry over onto the Wild bench, and forcing Nashville to play so much defense for 40 minutes fed right into what Minnesota had planned.
"Part of why we won that game today is because we had the puck so long in the offensive zone," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "We made them play hard minutes, and as the game wore on, we got stronger. If you just get the puck and you're throwing away, that's not a good play either."
The frustration turned to delight early in the third, when Mikko Koivu fed Dany Heatly on a picture-perfect bang-bang passing play, and Heatly re-directed the puck past Pekka Rinne to finally get the Wild on the board. Midway through the third they took the lead when Kyle Brodziak zipped a low shot past Rinne on the power play. And leading 3-2 late, the Wild's defense survived a flurry after Nashville had pulled Renne for an extra attacker.
"We took penalties and that let them back in the game and got some momentum for them," said Predators defenseman Jack Hillen, a Minnetonka native who played high school hockey at Holy Angels. "It was a pretty evenly-played game the whole way, then they get a 2-on-1 and a fluky goal and that's the game."
At the other end of the ice, there was the normal calm and solid play that fans are coming to expect from backup goalie Josh Harding, who was called into emergency duty late in the day when Niklas Backstrom was declared unavailable for personal reasons. That set in motion a mad scramble that had Matthew Hackett flying in from Houston to back up Harding. But Hackett didn't arrive until game time, meaning that beer league player Paul Deutsch, 51, from Minneapolis was hastily signed to a tryout contract and was in uniform for warm-ups as Harding's temporary safety valve.
"I give a lot of credit to (Harding) in that game because he didn't know until this afternoon he was playing," Yeo said, joking that Deutsch's work in warm-ups may have thrown off the Wild in the early part of the game. "Maybe we couldn't score on Paul there and we had no confidence going out for the first couple periods. Who knows?"
After building a 2-1 lead in the third period, the Wild went on the penalty kill with Nick Johnson in the box for boarding. But Nashville's golden opportunity to tie the game was tarnished thanks to a bounce and a stumble.
Mikko Koivu dumped the puck out of the Wild zone and sent it down the ice, where it hit a stanchion on the glass just inside the Predators blue line. Preds goalie Pekka Rinne had come out of the net to play the puck, but stumbled before he got there. The slip-up allowed Cal Clutterbuck to coral the loose puck and slap it into a wide-open net, just ahead of Rinne's attempt to swat the puck away, for a 3-1 Wild lead. It was the eventual game-winner.
• 1: Shots Nashville needed to take an early lead, as Jordin Tootoo got the team's first shot on goal of the game past Harding.
• 9-2-0: The Wild's record for November, setting a new standard for wins in the month. They were 8-5-0 in November 2008.
• 6: Consecutive home wins for the Wild.
• 6-1-1: Harding's season record, including a 6-0-1 mark in St. Paul. He was pulled from a 5-2 loss in Los Angeles on Nov. 12 for his only loss of the season.
Still no sign of defenseman Mike Lundin in the lineup, although indications are that he'll be see sometime soon, as he's been skating a more regular shift in practice. For Badgers fans who came to the rink hoping to see 2010 Hobey Baker winner Blake Geoffrion in action for the Preds, there was disappointment as well, as the Nashville center was scratched. Brodziak, after scoring to give the Wild a 2-1 lead, was speared in the groin by Nashville's Mike Fisher, and left the ice for a time. He seemed sore (physically and emotionally) after the game, but shouldn't miss any time.
"According to (Fisher), it wasn't (premeditated)," Brodziak said. "But I'm not an idiot."
Predators - Jordin Tootoo 2 (Smith, Spaling), 5:21
Wild - Dany Heatley 6 (Koivu, Setoguchi), 1:05
Wild - Kyle Brodziak 5 (Cullen, Scandella), 9:39, PPG
Wild - Cal Clutterbuck 2 (Koivu), 13:19, SHG
Predators - Ryan Suter 5 (Tootoo, Erat), 13:57, PPG
Shots: Wild 10-12-8-30; Predators 9-8-8-25. Saves: Wild, Josh Harding (23-25); Predators, Pekka Rinne (27-30). Power plays: Wild 1-for-5, Predators 0-5.
After loading up on turkey and dressing Thursday (although the team's Canadians may have celebrated Thanksgiving last month, as is the tradition in their home and native land) the Wild have their annual Black Friday matinee, with the Edmonton Oilers visiting. If you want to see a Wild win, this is about as sure a bet as you're likely to find, as Minnesota has won 17 consecutive home games versus the Oil.