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Predators rally for win in Wild?s final tune-up

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild entered play Sunday without a regulation loss in their past seven games. That streak came to an ugly end In their final regular-season tune-up before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Nashville Predators scored four second-period goals to overcome a two-goal deficit and finish their season with a 7-3 victory at Xcel Energy Center.

Minnesota, the top wild-card team in the Western Conference, will play its first-round series against the Central Division-champion Colorado Avalanche, beginning Thursday night in Denver (9:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN). It will be the third time the Wild and Avalanche have met in the first round. They've split the first two, with the division champion losing each time.

"It's like the last exhibition game before the start of the season," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Always happy to have that one over with. It didn't take long to figure out we weren't on top of it."

For the Predators, despite going 6-0-1 in their final seven games, the season is over. They went out with a bang, getting a goal from Rich Clune in the first period and four unanswered goals in the second to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead.

"It matters to us," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "We came out of the Olympic break and we talked about playing good hockey. We came back and had a homestand and didn't get any wins and that put us behind the eight-ball. So we said, 'from now until game 82, this is our playoffs. And after 82 games, if we play as hard as we can, if we don't make it, at least we can keep our heads high.' And the group did that."

Nashville also became the first team in NHL history to play an entire 82-game season without surrendering a shorthanded goal.

After Zach Parise's power-play goal at 2:10 of the second made it 3-1, defensemen Ryan Ellis, Shea Weber and Roman Josi scored on shots from the point in a span of two minutes to give Nashville its first lead.

"We had some chances at 3-1 to keep it going but they just started going in for them," Wild forward Erik Haula said.

Craig Smith tipped another Josi point shot past Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov at 14:53 to give Nashville a two-goal edge. Smith also scored the final goal of the night late in the third to take the team-lead with 24 goals. Rookie Calle Jarnkrok had the other goal for Nashville, his second of the season.

"We play the same way no matter what; circumstances, score, time of the game, we're playing the same way all the way to the end," Smith said. "You always want to go out on a good note."

Jason Pominville had a first-period goal for Minnesota, his 30th of the season, joining Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston as the only players in franchise history to hit the 30-goal plateau. Pominville also had two assists to reach 60 points for the sixth time in his career.

"Obviously it wasn't the way we wanted to play," Pominville said. "These are tough games to get up to. In the back of your mind, you don't want to get hurt or take one off the ankle. Sometimes it leads to those results."

Haula had a goal and an assist for his first career multiple-point game.

Bryzgalov, who stopped 10 of 11 shots in the first period before a rocky second, made 16 saves before being pulled for John Curry at the start of the third period. The loss was Bryzgalov's first in regulation in 11 games since the Wild acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers in a trade on March 4.

"Let's face it, we weren't playing too well in front of him," Yeo said. "I'm not worried about him."

Carter Hutton made 27 saves for Nashville and finished 11-10-3 in his rookie season.

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