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Predators clinch playoff berth, edge Wings

by Brian Hunter
The Nashville Predators are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and still ahead of the Detroit Red Wings in the standings.

Ryan Suter scored 16 seconds into overtime Saturday afternoon to give the Predators a 4-3 win over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. The U.S.-born defenseman skated into the right circle and put a shot over the shoulder of Jimmy Howard for the winning goal.

Shea Weber, Martin Erat and J.P. Dumont had goals in regulation for Nashville, which had qualified for the playoffs in four straight seasons until missing out in 2009. The Predators are currently fifth in the Western Conference with 98 points, two more than the Wings. Detroit still has four games left in the regular season, Nashville only two.

"It was just a sprint coming after that Olympic break," forward Jerred Smithson said. "We knew we had a lot of games -- we had probably one of the toughest schedules there in the NHL. We wanted to come out, we weren't going to practice a lot, we wanted to spend our energy in the games. Guys have done a great job of doing that and we have two more to go here."

Pavel Datsyuk forced overtime with 36.4 seconds left in regulation, beating Predators goalie Pekka Rinne while his counterpart, Howard, was on the bench for a sixth attacker.

"It was just one of those plays where they have six guys and we have five guys, so no matter what there's going to be one guy open," said Rinne, who stopped 28 shots. "It happened to be Datsyuk and it was in the back of the net, obviously. I got real mad, but it was a good shot and a good play by them."

Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom also tallied for the Wings, who have picked up at least a point in 12 straight games (10-0-2) and moved two points ahead of the Kings for seventh. Los Angeles hosts Anaheim later Saturday.

"We battled back and got a point," Lidstrom said. "On the other hand it's disappointing losing in the first shift of overtime."

Nashville had lost its last four games to Detroit, including a 1-0 final in an 11-round shootout one week earlier. The Wings struck first Saturday, as Rafalski scored a power-play goal on a shot from the bottom of the left circle with 1:45 left in the first period, but the Predators asserted themselves with a three-goal second.

Weber took a feed from his defense partner Suter and wound up for a slap shot that glanced off the stick of Tomas Holmstrom at the 1:36 mark' and Erat followed at 5:01 with a shot from the right circle that deflected in off Henrik Zetterberg's skate.

The lead held for exactly 15 minutes of game action until Lidstrom ripped a shot from the high slot past Rinne. Dumont put the Predators back in front 3-2 with 43 seconds left in the period, scoring off a one-timer from the inside edge of the left circle.

"We do feel good about it (clinching a playoff spot)," Dumont said. "But we want to make sure we get as good a position as possible."

A coach and a referee reached milestones -- it was Barry Trotz's 900th game behind the Nashville bench as the only coach the franchise has known. Referee Kerry Fraser who is set to retire at season's end worked his 1,900th NHL game.

Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.

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