ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Nashville Predators badly needed a break after a pair of shootout losses to start the season and a draining start to this tight game against the Minnesota Wild.
The opening was there for Martin Erat, and the veteran left wing made sure he didn't miss it.
Erat's unassisted goal with 8:15 left made the Wild pay for a late mistake and the Predators earned their first victory, 3-1 on Tuesday night over former teammate Ryan Suter's new club.
"It was just one of those things where you make one mistake, or something happens, and that's it," said Dany Heatley, who scored for the third time in three games for the Wild, who failed to finish their opening homestand unbeaten.
He took advantage of a rare mistake by the Wild's relentless star Zach Parise, who sent a pass out from behind his own net to a spot where none of his teammates were close enough to corral. Defenseman Jared Spurgeon was going the wrong way, and the puck kept streaking into the Wild zone with only Erat near it.
"It's a rolling puck, so it's tough," goalie Niklas Backstrom said, adding: "I just have to beat him and get it outside."
Backstrom came out quickly enough to stop the breakaway with his stick beyond the top of the left circle, but Erat blocked the clearing attempt and chased down the puck at the goal line. He maneuvered it in toward the net and dumped it in before Backstrom could recover and Spurgeon could dive to stop it.
"Marty's been around the league, and in a position like that he knows they're going to go to their forehand," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He waited, and at the last minute he jumped in front of it and blocked it. It stayed with him, and he was able to put it in the net. Huge for us, because we were running on fumes."
Erat shrugged off his shrewd move.
"It was a hard play for him, because the puck was standing on the edge," Erat said. "For a goalie it's always hard to play the puck like that. It just hit me in the stomach. I was actually lucky it didn't hit me somewhere and bounce in the corner."
Even Predators goalie Chris Mason, who was stellar in his first start this season with 29 saves, was sympathetic to Backstrom.
"That's a bad feeling because I've been on the other end of that too. When the pucks go like that you're kind of caught in between," Mason said.
Backstrom stopped 23 shots.
"He played a great game up to that point, and that puck couldn't have been in a worse place," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "If he doesn't come out, the guy has a breakaway. If he does come out, it's going to be tight as it is."
The Wild had only themselves to blame, however, for being in a tie game down the stretch. They owned the first period, posting a 12-5 shots advantage.
"It's a matter of just executing and finishing the play. We had some really good chances and good opportunities," Parise said. "Collectively we need to bear down a little bit and put those in, because that's a big difference in the game right there, grabbing that lead."
Suter left the Predators, who drafted him seventh overall in 2003, for a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild that is identical to Parise's deal that was also signed last summer.
His departure angered general manager David Poile at the time, but Suter and Poile spoke genially in the morning before the teams skated.
"I'm getting better. Every game I feel more comfortable," Suter said. "Obviously that's not the way you wanted it to end, but we can take some good things out of it."
The 36-year-old Mason, in his third stint with the Predators, started for Pekka Rinne because of the back-to-back games. Rinne is 8-3-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and three shutouts in 13 games against the Wild in his career. Mason, who played for Winnipeg last season, was just 6-5-2 with a 3.20 GAA entering the game.
"We got it tied up and got out of the first period and then we said, `It's 40 minutes. Just dig in and show our character here,"' Trotz said. "And we did."
Notes: Heatley has 14 goals and 10 assists in 18 career games against the Predators. ... Predators C Paul Gaustad was scratched for the second straight game because of an upper-body injury. ... The Predators started a franchise-tying seven-game road trip. ... The Wild went 0 for 3 on the power play and are 2 for 13 on the season.
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