NASHVILLE – Ryan Suter said he was just trying to get through it.
Taken aback by some of the venom he faced at the rink he called home for his first seven seasons in the National Hockey League, Suter had his ups and downs on Saturday but came away with an assist and a victory as the Minnesota Wild defeated the Nashville Predators 2-1 in a shootout at Bridgestone Arena.
"I would say it's not fun being booed," said Suter, who called some of the signs in the crowd "interesting" – one compared him to the superhero character Robin, the allusion being that Predators captain Shea Weber is Batman. "It's part of it, but it kept up the whole game, too. That surprised me. They'll probably have some sore throats tomorrow."
Matt Cullen won the shootout in the third round with a wrist shot to Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne's blocker side. In the second round, Mikko Koivu scored by opening up Rinne and then sliding the puck between his legs with a backhander, but Craig Smith equalized it with some slick faking of his own past Niklas Backstrom. Minnesota won when David Legwand hit the post with his try in the third round.
The Wild entered with wins in five of their previous eight. Nashville, which was 2-5 in its previous seven, embarks on a five-game road trip over seven days starting Tuesday. The Preds earned three of four points on the two-game homestand and coach Barry Trotz said earning the point showed good character, especially as Nashville played on Friday, defeating Edmonton 6-0.
Suter, who was selected seventh overall in 2003 when the draft was held in this same arena, was booed virtually every time he stepped on the ice. He chose to sign with Minnesota as an unrestricted free agent last July, inking a deal worth $98 million over 13 years.
Assuming that the National Hockey League's proposed realignment plan is approved, Minnesota would reportedly move into the same division as Nashville. That led to a quip by Trotz.
"If the fans can keep that up for 14 years," he said, alluding to Suter's contract, "it will be awesome."
On the same day as Suter agreed to a contract with Minnesota last July 4, Zach Parise agreed to a deal on the same terms. Together, the pair combined for the game's first goal. Minnesota took advantage of Nashville's second penalty in the first 8:07 of the second period finally to break the ice. Bobby Butler, playing his second game for Nashville after being claimed on waivers from New Jersey, went off for hooking and during the kill, Nashville's Kevin Klein gained full control of the puck behind his net. He sent it to the right wall where it hit off teammate Mike Fisher's skate and remained in the zone.
That eventually allowed Suter, straight out from the goal just inside the blue line, to find a shooting lane for a wrist shot that Parise deflected in front at 9:01. It was the first goal that Rinne allowed in 99:01.
"Zach did a nice job," Suter said. "I saw him down there just trying to get it to him. He did the rest, tipped it in. good job by him."
Suter went from hero to goat in the third period, as he was in the penalty box when Legwand evened the game at 1-1. At 5:53, Suter earned a roughing call during a scrum in front of his net. Thirty-five seconds later, Legwand took Sergei Kostitsyn's cross-ice pass on the right side and beat Backstrom high to the glove side with a wrist shot.
"I thought it was, I mean, you're just trying to get a guy out of the front of your net," Suter said of the penalty. "I mean, that's part of the game. The guys, even though they gave it up, they came back and battled hard and got the win for them."
Suter played in the All-Star Game last season for the first time and currently leads the League in time on ice per game at 27:31. He played 28:59 on Saturday, including what seemed like the entire overtime, as Minnesota gained a power play.
Rinne was whistled for playing the puck outside of the trapezoid and received a delay of game call with 3:26 left, but Nashville killed it. Rinne (28 saves) stopped a blistering slap shot by Devin Setoguchi with his glove hand, with the puck rattling off the post but staying out.
"It was a big game for Sutes and I don't want to be taking anything from Nashville but we're really happy to have him on our team," said Backstrom, who made 24 saves and kept Minnesota in the game as they were outshot 9-5 in the first period. "He was one of the best players in this League and so fun to play with him.
"Sure you understand. This crowd has been a really big part of this team for many years, but like I said we're really happy to have him. That's hockey nowadays: Players move around. Sometimes teams move around, too."
It was obvious that the Wild players badly wanted to win the game for Suter. Before the media was allowed in the locker room after the game, loud cheers could be heard emanating from its direction.
Suter was asked if he was hurt and disappointed by the fans' reaction.
"Yeah, I am," he said. "I spent seven years here, had a great time here. I had a lot of respect for the fans – I mean, I still do. It's part of being a fan. I understand that. It's tough to take, but it is what it is."
Nashville, the League's lowest-scoring team, played most of the game without one of its key forwards. Colin Wilson, who leads the team in goals with seven, suffered an upper-body injury at 1:48 of the second period. Wilson did not return.
That came on top of losing wing Patric Hornqvist on Friday, also to an upper-body injury, on Friday. Hornqvist has led the team in goals in two of the previous three seasons.
Trotz said both players would be evaluated further on Monday. He pointed as a model to Ottawa, which has lost some of its top players in Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson, but has continued to win.
"We just have to do it as a group," Trotz said of scoring.