ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter will head to the 2014 Sochi Games with bragging rights on Swiss roommate Roman Josi.
Niederreiter's goal 2:16 into overtime gave the Wild a 3-2 victory against Josi and the Nashville Predators on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
After Nashville defenseman Shea Weber snapped his stick on a shot attempt in the Wild zone, Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak cleared the puck to the neutral zone where it was gobbled up by Niederreiter. He cruised down the right wing and dangled around his Sochi roommate before ripping a shot past Carter Hutton for his 11th goal of the season and first career game-winner.
"I might mention it. I don't think he'll be happy about it," Niederreiter said. "But that was a big win for us. We needed those points."
The Wild (31-21-7) join the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres as the first teams in the NHL to head to the Olympic break. Minnesota finished 11-4-2 in its final 17 games heading into the recess after a six-game losing streak at the end of 2013 appeared to sink the Wild's Stanley Cup Playoff hopes.
"I think it says a lot about our group," coach Mike Yeo said. "I think it says a couple things: Number one, that I think our players recognize the importance of it, but number two, it shows how bad they want it, it shows their first priority was not their vacation, not their Olympics, their first priority was our team and making sure we finished strong."
The Wild are in firm control of the first of the two wild-card berths in the Western Conference. With the win, they have 69 points and are six points ahead of the Vancouver Canucks and seven in front of the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars. Nashville is another two points back.
"It was a big win for us tonight," forward Zach Parise said. "You have to push the teams down that are below you. We can take care of ourselves and go from there."
Minnesota opened the scoring 4:05 into the game when Nashville defenseman Michael Del Zotto couldn't clear the zone. The puck came to Niederreiter at the right half-wall, and he found a pinching Jonas Brodin in the slot. Brodin fired a wrister over Hutton's blocker for his eighth of the season and first since Dec. 29, a span of 18 games.
The Predators got a lucky bounce less than two minutes later when a seemingly harmless shot by Craig Smith from the blue line handcuffed Darcy Kuemper in the crease. Kuemper thought he had the puck secured, but it laid in the crease long enough for Smith to skate in and poke it into an open net for his 17th.
"It was similar to a receiver looking down the field in football before he catches the [ball]," Kuemper said. "I tried to make the play before I cushioned it. I took my eye off it for a second and didn't know the rebound was sitting there. Obviously, that's a bad goal."
The Wild regained the lead at 13:27 when Parise took a great feed from Dany Heatley in the left circle and fired the puck short-side past Hutton for his 19th of the season. The power-play goal was Parise's 10th, third-best in the NHL.
But Smith got Nashville even again at 7:40 of the second period, redirecting a Victor Bartley shot in the high slot past Kuemper for his second of the night. Smith's bid for the hat trick early in the third ricocheted off the right post, Nashville's third pipe of the night.
"Just trying to get the puck to the net," Smith said. "The puck went up to Bartley and he made a heads-up play shooting for a tip there and it went in."
While Kuemper seemed to be fighting the puck, especially early, Hutton was on his game. He stopped several prime chances by the Wild, including Jason Zucker in the first period and close-in tries by Jason Pominville and Matt Cooke in the second. Hutton also stopped six shots during a Wild power play with less than four minutes to play. He finished with 33 saves; Kuemper stopped 16 shots.
"Carter Hutton gave us a chance tonight, he got us a point," said Predators coach Barry Trotz. "We hit three posts, they had a little luck on their side."
The loss ended a surreal day for the Predators, who battled through their fair share of adversity Thursday. Prior to the team's morning skate, play-by-play voice Pete Weber suffered a heart attack and was rushed from the arena by ambulance to a hospital.
A short time later, Nashville general manager David Poile, who will serve the same role for the United States in Sochi, was struck in the face by a puck during the morning skate. He was also taken to the hospital by ambulance.
"For us, a lot of things happened today and I thought we handled it pretty well," Trotz said.
Nashville (25-23-10) has one game remaining before the break, Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks at Bridgestone Arena.
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