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Confident Wild rolls past Predators 5-1

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Greg Johnson
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn
Predators captain Greg Johnson heads up ice on a short-handed two-on-one break with Adam Hall (upper right) to score Nashville's only goal of the game.
The Minnesota Wild got goals from five different players Thursday night and killed off all eight of Nashville's power-play opportunities to snap the Predators' three-game win streak with a 5-1 victory at the Xcel Energy Center. Predators captain Greg Johnson scored his club's only goal of the night, converting on a short-handed opportunity five minutes into the second period to cut the Wild's early 2-0 lead in half. Later that period, Nashville was unable to capitalize on a two-minute five-on-three manpower advantage, and a buoyed Minnesota team responded with another score less than a minute after the concurrent penalties expired. The Wild tacked on two more during a four-on-four stint in the third to put the game out of reach.

Goaltender Chris Mason took the loss for the Predators, who move to 31-13-6 on the season. Wild goalie Manny Fernandez stopped 32 of Nashville's 33 shots to secure Minnesota's franchise-record fifth consecutive win.

"The biggest thing is you can't get down to the Minnesota Wild," Predators associate coach Brent Peterson said. "They're a strong defensive team. They've got good goaltending. We spotted them two goals on poor plays by us and we weren't ready as a team to play a top-notch game right from the beginning of the game. When they get up 2-0, they check you so well. Then we got a good short-handed goal and certainly we were back in it. If we score on the five-on-three, that would be a big boost, but we didn't and they came back down and scored three more and it was sort of lights out from there on."

The Wild shot out of the gates and dominated the first period, outshooting Nashville 13-5. "Minnesota came out flying," Peterson said. "They have wins in five games in a row now and they're confident. They're playing good and they're playing up-tempo hockey. We didn't respond."

The Predators' best chance came with just over seven minutes gone, when Paul Kariya's one-timed blast from the middle of the slot whizzed off the shoulder or helmet of Fernandez. Moments later, Stephane Veilleux opened the scoring with an odd goal. Marc Chouinard's one-timer from the right face-off dot was wide to the left but deflected off Veilleux's leg back toward the goal mouth. It hit Mason on his right side and bounced into the net at 9:54. Alexandre Daigle extended the lead to 2-0 at the 16:28 mark when he cut from the left point to the middle of the ice and used Nashville defenseman Mark Eaton as a screen to beat Mason to the far side.

The Predators were much stronger in the second, and as Scott Walker sat in the penalty box for holding, Greg Johnson notched his second short-handed goal of the season to make it 2-1 at 4:56. An attempted dump-in by Minnesota's Brian Rolston was blocked near Nashville's blue line by Adam Hall and the loose puck was retrieved by Johnson. He pushed it up the ice on the right side, creating a two-on-one with Hall to his left. Johnson looked as if we was going pass then snapped a shot from the right face-off dot that beat Fernandez to the far side. Prime scoring chances by Kimmo Timonen, Dan Hamhuis and Kariya followed, and 12 minutes in, a clever tip-pass by Jerred Smithson allowed Scott Nichol to beat defenseman Filip Kuba. With only the goalie to beat, Nichol attempted to deke but his shot near the right post was met by the left leg pad of Fernandez.

Greg Johnson
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn
Wild forward Marian Gaborik gets tangled with Predators leading scorer Paul Kariya.
At 14:58, Jeremy Stevenson drew simultaneous penalties on two Wild players--Mikko Koivu for tripping and Derek Boogaarrd for boarding--and put Nashville on a five-on-three power play for a full two minutes. Kariya connected with Yanic Perreault in front for a good chance that was saved by Fernandez, and Perreault hit the crossbar on a subsequent shot, but that's as close as the Predators would come to tying the game. Shortly after Koivu and Boogaard returned to the ice, Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored from the top of the right face-off circle to extend the margin to 3-1 heading into the second intermission.

"[Fernandez] was solid, but he's been solid all year," Peterson said. "We knew he would be solid. We didn't execute. We didn't get pucks up when we had to. Nichol had a breakaway when it was 2-1. In the five-on-three [Fernandez] made a couple outstanding saves. But we didn't do the things we needed to do to score on him."

Sporting all-new line combinations, the Predators again came out with noticeable jump to start the third. But while coincidental minors had the teams skating four-on-four with five minutes expired, defensive breakdowns by Nashville contributed to two Wild goals in the span of 43 seconds. Todd White shoveled home a rebound at 6:13 after being left alone in front of Mason, and Marian Gaborik put his side up 5-1 when his low shot from the high slot deflected into the net off the underside of Mason's left leg pad at 6:56. Nashville had three more power-plays in the final half of the period but came away empty on each.

"They're the No. 1 penalty killing team in the league and we still had good chances, good shots," Peterson said. "We didn't get the rebounds, or work as hard as we needed to to get the rebounds. We got some screens, we got some shots, we got some good plays. Some nights they don't go in."

In the final two periods, Nashville doubled up Minnesota in shots, 28-14, and was awarded seven power plays, but could muster little to affect the 5-1 outcome.

The Predators, whose Minnesota stop was the third on a five-game road trip, will next travel to Columbus for a Central Division match-up with the Blue Jackets on Saturday night. That game will be televised on FSN South and broadcast on 104.5 FM The Zone. The team then visits Dallas for a game on Wednesday before returning home for a two-game stand at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

Notes: The Predators are now 6-6-0 against teams in the Northwest Division and 12-8-5 on the road... Chris Mason, who appeared in his 11th game of the season Thursday, stopped 22 of Minnesota's 27 shots. His record falls to 5-3-1 on the season... Greg Johnson's short-handed tally was Nashville's eighth of the season and fifth on the road... Adam Hall's assist on Johnson's goal was his first short-handed point of the season... Nashville won 66 percent of the face-offs Thursday compared to 34 percent for Minnesota... Forward Scott Nichol logged a season-high 13:50 of ice time in only his third game back from a foot injury that kept him out of the lineup for 31 games... Martin Erat, Darcy Hordichuk and Jamie Allison were scratches for the Predators... A sellout crowd of 18,568 was in attendance at the Xcel Energy Center.

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