ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Martin Erat's goal with just over eight minutes to play was the difference Tuesday night as the Nashville Predators opened a seven-game road trip with a 3-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
It was a blue-collar effort for the Predators, who scored a pair of greasy goals -- and it was just enough.
Erat's winner came during a 4-on-4 situation. Wild winger Zach Parise aimed a pass at Jared Spurgeon while in the Preds' zone, but the puck was deflected down the rink. Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom was faced with a decision -- leave his crease to retrieve the puck or let Erat come in alone a breakaway.
Backstrom hesitated for a second and chose the former, beating Erat to the puck, but misplayed it right into his pants. He got to his feet, but a diving attempt to get the puck away from Erat at the left circle came up empty as Erat gained control, cruised around Backstrom and swept the puck into an empty net.
"I just tried to read which side he was going to shoot it," Erat said. "He hit me right in the pants."
"It was a rolling puck, so maybe I should have stayed in the net and waited for the breakaway," Backstrom said. "I got to the puck. I need to get it out.
"I don't know if I would I play it different. It's tough for a goalie to figure a shot. He guessed the right side, got the puck and scored."
Erat said it may have been some payback for a quirky goal scored last season by Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck, who took advantage of a weird puck bounce off the glass on a play that made Pekka Rinne look out of sorts.
"That's what happened last year to us," Erat said. "The clock always goes around."
The play started at the far end when Parise misread what Spurgeon was doing at the point.
"He was jumping in and I anticipated him staying back," Parise said. "Mistake there on my part."
Erat tipped the puck past Spurgeon and out of the zone, where the footrace with Backstrom ensued. The goal broke a 1-1 tie that had stood since the latter stages of the first period.
"It's a bad feeling. I've been on the other end of that too," said Predators goaltender Chris Mason, who made 30 saves in his first start since last April. "When the puck goes like that, you're just caught in between. I think Backstrom wanted to stay, then go. It's always tough when guys get in that position."
"That's a tough bounce. It was right in between for him," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "It's easy to look at Backy, but he played a great game up until that point. That puck couldn't have been in a worse place."
Minnesota got on the board first, as Dany Heatley wheeled around the top of the right circle and sailed an off-speed wrister through traffic that deflected off Preds defenseman Kevin Klein's glove in front and past Mason at 6:02. For Heatley, it was his third goal of the season. The goal also extended Heatley's point streak dating back to last season to eight games (eight goals, three assists).
Nashville tied the game later in the period, as a loose puck squirted free to Klein on the blue line. The defenseman snapped a shot towards the net that deflected off a scrum in front and right onto the stick of Nick Spaling at the right hash marks. He slipped the puck past Backstrom for his first of the season.
Spaling now has five goals in nine career games against Minnesota. He has 14 against the rest of the League in 173 games.
"I sort of made that line up today. That line [Spaling, Gabriel Bourque and Brandon Yip] was really good," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "They gave us a spark. I think if they get that next goal and we fall down 2-0, I think it kills your will. But we got it tied up, got through the first period and said, 'Okay, it's 40 minutes, just dig in.'"
David Legwand added an insurance goal with 17 seconds remaining. Nashville, which lost its first two games in shootouts, improved to 1-0-2 on the season. The loss was Minnesota's first in three games this season.
"It's a big win. Last night was a tough game for us, I was really concerned we weren't going to have much," Trotz said. "It showed early, we didn't have our legs, but as we got through the first period, I think our game got better and better."