Branko Radivojevic scored the game-winning goal at 18:07 of the third period to lift the Minnesota Wild to a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators in front of 12,639 at the Sommet Center Saturday night. The Predators came from behind to tie the game twice, but the opportunistic Wild sent the home team to just their third home regulation loss all season and first in the last seven outings.
“When you get in the last couple minutes of the game after we had come back twice, you want to at least take it to overtime,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “That one hurt because I thought we did a lot of good things – we only took one penalty, we put a season-high 43 shots on net and we had numerous scoring chances. It just feels like we let one get away.”
The Preds season high in shots enabled them to outshoot Minnesota 43-25 in the game while finishing 1-for-5 on the power play, their second man-advantage marker in as many games.
Minnesota had the first prime chance of the game, coming shortly after the expiration of the Predators first power play. Matt Foy received a gift, having an errant pass bounce onto his stick in the neutral zone, which sprung him on a breakaway at 7:50. Goaltender Chris Mason stayed with Foy move-for-move, and performed larceny with two sprawling left-leg saves.
Teams continued to trade opportunities until the 11:08 mark of the first, when the Wild took a 1-0 lead on a redirect in front. Aaron Voros got the goal, tipping home a Brent Burns wrist shot while providing a blanketing screen that prevented Mason from ever seeing the puck.
The Predators answered with a pair of goals of their own coming just 23 seconds apart to quickly take a 2-1 lead.
The first came on the power play off the hot stick of Martin Erat. A perfectly placed pass from point man Ryan Suter allowed Erat to rocket a one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle that snuck past goalie Niklas Backstrom glove side. It was Nashville’s second power-play tally in its past four attempts dating back to the third period on Thursday against Detroit. Ville Koistinen also picked up an assist in his first game since Nov. 15.
“I am always trying to play with confidence, but I have begun to shoot more pucks on net and I am lucky enough to have them going in for me right now,” Erat said.
Erat continues to be on fire, recording his fifth goal and 10th point in the last six games. He leads the team with 21 points (7g-14a), while the assist made Suter second in production amongst defenseman with nine points (2g-7a).
After impressing coaches and teammates with their energy and work ethic the last handful of games, the line of Martin Gelinas, Scott Nichol and Jordin Tootoo were finally rewarded at 13:12 of the first. It was Gelinas that got the goal, driving to the net and backhanding a rebound created by a heavy Greg Zanon point shot.
Radek Bonk tries to stuff a rebound past goalie Niklas Backstrom.
“It is nice that your teammates acknowledge your work, but at the same time you want to chip in,” Gelinas said. “Toots has chipped in and Scotty Nichol has worked hard but hasn’t been rewarded, so we feel more confident now, and we will move forward from here.”
The flurry of goals continued a mere 1:04 later when Minnesota knotted the score at two aside. Foy gained revenge for being stoned on a breakaway earlier in the period, burying a feed from rookie James Sheppard.
“On a couple of their goals, we had the puck bouncing around and we just couldn’t get a stick on it,” Trotz said. “They threw it to the back post and found a redirection or tapped it in the net.”
The majority of the second frame lacked pace and flow, as constant stoppages prevented either team from gaining any sort of momentum. But, with just 1:11 remaining in the period, the Wild claimed a 3-2 lead by capitalizing on the lone odd-man rush of the middle 20 minutes. Marian Gaborik got the goal from the right side of the net, but it was Mark Parrish who made the play, sending a beautiful pass to his winger on the back door.
“They are a really good transition team,” Mason said. “They wait in the neutral zone for you to turn it over or be out of position and then they just go, and that is what they did tonight. We turned it over in not-so-great areas and they made us pay.”
Neither team converted on their lone power-play attempt of the second, and the Predators outshot Minnesota 15-6 in the period.
Pace intensified as the third got going, and the Preds came in waves, eventually breaking the Wild’s stranglehold at 10:16. The play was initiated by Alexander Radulov, who collected a loose puck in the slot, and seemed to have it on a string as he wheeled around a pair of defenders before setting up Vernon Fiddler for a simple tap-in through Backstrom’s five-hole to tie the contest at 3-3.
Ville Koistinen earned an assist in his return to the lineup against the Wild. Here, he drew a holding call on Todd Fedoruk at 15:05 of the second period.
Following the goal, Nashville had momentum on its side and continued to come at the Wild, but it was Minnesota who broke the tie and put a dagger into the side of the Predator comeback attempt with the game winner at 18:07. Radivojevic played hero for the Wild, cutting down the right side and putting a shot just inside the far post that snuck past Mason.
“When they are playing their game they counter on you quick, and they have a lot of guys that can beat you,” Trotz siad. “But, most of the guys that beat us tonight were their checkers. Gaborik was the one guy who did damage who is a key offensive player for them.”
Added Gelinas: “We were on the right track and it was a great shot, but with that little time left you can't give up opportunities like that. This is where we have to be a little smarter with two minutes left. It is a learning process – we will take it as that and prepare for this upcoming road trip.”
Tonight was the Preds final home game for nearly two weeks, as they will now head out on a three-game Eastern Canada road trip that includes games in Ottawa (6:30 p.m. CT on Nov. 29), Montreal (6 p.m. CT on Dec. 1) and Toronto (6:30 p.m. CT on Dec. 4). All three games will be broadcast on FSN South and Predators Radio.
Game Notes: Nashville scratched Marek Zidlicky, Kevin Klein and Darcy Hordichuk from the lineup, while Minnesota sent Sean Hill, Derek Boogaard and Josh Harding to the press box… The Predators hold the all-time series lead at 10-9-6… The next meeting between these two teams comes Dec. 18 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul… Nashville is now 7-2-2 in the month of November and 3-3-0 against the Northwest Division… Ryan Suter has assists in back-to-back games… Jason Arnott won 15 of the 24 draws he took (63%), while Radek Bonk won seven of 11 (64%)… Shea Weber posted a game-high six shots on goal.