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Wild beat Predators, but both miss playoffs

by Brian Hunter
Two teams clinging to postseason aspirations met Friday at Xcel Energy Center. The Minnesota Wild doubled up the Nashville Predators 8-4, but by the end of the night they once again had something in common -- both were eliminated.

Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron scored a pair of goals, including one of three power-play tallies by the Wild, but Jacques Lemaire's squad met its demise hours later when Anaheim edged Dallas to claim the final Western Conference playoff berth.

"I wish we would have had more games like this," Lemaire said after what might have been his last home game as coach of the Wild. "Then we wouldn't be in the situation that we are in right now."

Nashville captain Jason Arnott scored twice to set a franchise single-season record for goals with 33, but the Predators were ousted shortly after their game ended when St. Louis defeated Columbus.

"This group never gave up," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "They can walk out of here proud. Obviously we didn't get the result we wanted tonight."

Andrew Brunette and Kim Johnsson also scored on the power play for the Wild, Mikko Koivu had a crippling shorthanded goal in the third period and Cal Clutterbuck and ex-Predator Marek Zidlicky added empty-netters in the final minutes. But the goal that changed the momentum came early, courtesy of Dan Fritsche.

Arnott had given the Predators an early lead, beating Niklas Backstrom at 7:18, but the Wild looked set to go on the power play after a delayed penalty was called on Nashville in the offensive zone. As the puck trickled through the slot, the Predators' Joel Ward appeared to touch up, which would have stopped play, but the whistle never blew.

Instead, Fritsche grabbed the loose puck and raced the other way. He took a shot that rolled up and over the right blocker of Pekka Rinne and into the net at 12:58, tying the score and infuriating Trotz, who waved his arms on the bench and protested to the officials, to no avail.

"An unforgettable break, that's for sure," Nashville center Vernon Fiddler said. "It could cost us the year. We had touched the puck a few times before that where they hadn't blown it down."

Brunette scored with 27 seconds left in the period, giving the Wild a 2-1 lead, and the Predators would play catch-up the rest of the way.

Bergeron and Johnsson stretched the lead to 4-1 in the second before Arnott's second of the game cut Nashville's deficit to two. However, Bergeron struck again on a power play with 1:51 left to restore Minnesota's three-goal lead heading into the third.

Shea Weber scored for the Predators during a 5-on-3 advantage with 9:13 left, making it a 5-3 game -- but with Nashville still on the power play, Koivu responded just 19 seconds later with a backbreaker. Nashville kept fighting on Steve Sullivan's goal with 6:39 to play, but could get no closer before Clutterbuck and Zidlicky put exclamation points on Minnesota's victory.

"Tonight was special. Behind the bench, I don't know how many times I thought that the guys are playing with their heart, and you can tell. And having the fans appreciate that, it was great." -- Wild coach Jacques Lemaire
"We would have liked to play like this the whole year," said Backstrom, who finished with 31 saves.

Instead, it's wait 'til next year -- and there's the added uncertainty of whether the Wild will still have Lemaire behind the bench. The only coach the franchise has ever known is contemplating retirement. He soaked in the adulation of the crowd during the game.

"Tonight was special," Lemaire said. "Behind the bench, I don't know how many times I thought that the guys are playing with their heart, and you can tell. And having the fans appreciate that, it was great."

Oilers 5, Flames 1 | Video

Rookie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers stopped 31 shots for his first win since Nov. 10 as Edmonton won its season finale at Rexall Place and damaged Calgary's chances at winning the Northwest Division and earning the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.

Shawn Horcoff and Sheldon Souray each contributed a goal and two assists for the Oilers, who were officially eliminated Tuesday with a loss to Los Angeles. With a playoff berth no longer at stake, Dwayne Roloson's streak of 36 consecutive starts came to an end and Deslauriers made his first start since Nov. 30.

"It's always hard," Deslauriers said of sitting and watching for so long. "That was not the role I wanted personally, but that's the role that I had to play on the team. We were in a run for a playoff spot … the first year, I had a lot to learn."

Ales Kotalik, Steve MacIntyre and Patrick O'Sullivan also scored for Edmonton, which completes the home-and-home in Calgary on Saturday night.

The Flames will know by the time the game starts if they have any shot at the division title -- if Vancouver gains at least a point in its afternoon game at Colorado, the Canucks will clinch the third seed. Chicago earned fourth with Calgary's loss, so if the Flames don't win the division they will end up fifth and start the playoffs on the road against the Blackhawks.

"We lost control of our situation tonight," Calgary captain Jarome Iginla said. "We have to wait and see what Vancouver does now. That's unfortunate from our side. Hopefully, we still have an opportunity to win our division."

Mike Cammalleri scored with 7:18 remaining to end Deslauriers' shutout bid and provide a brief spark for the Flames, who dressed only 15 skaters due to injuries and salary cap issues that prevented them from recalling additional players. Cammalleri's goal made it a 3-1 game, but O'Sullivan got that one back 50 seconds later and Souray capped the scoring on the power play with 3:44 left.

"It's tough to play with that many guys," O'Sullivan said. "I think because they were down two (goals), they had to press, they had to skate more, they had to forecheck to get some offense and that's going to make it harder, too."

Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff matched Deslauriers save for save until Kotalik and MacIntyre scored 1:44 apart in the final six minutes of the second period. Horcoff made it 3-0 with 7:54 left in the third, at which point Kiprusoff was replaced by Curtis McElhinney.

"We were missing some key players, which was tough," Kiprusoff said. "But it can't be used as an excuse. It was a huge game for us and we didn't play that strong."

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

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