Wild.com's Dan Myers gives three takeaways from the Wild's 3-1 win against the Nashville Predators at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Tuesday night:
1. Making his fifth consecutive start, Alex Stalock backstopped the Wild to victory.
After seeing his four-game winning streak come to an end on Sunday against Washington, Stalock was allowed a much-deserved opportunity to get back on track. After all, the South St. Paul native entered the contest Tuesday 9-3-1 with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage over his past 13 games.
Video: NSH@MIN: Parise slams loose puck past Saros
Stalock rewarded interim coach Dean Evason's confidence by playing outstanding, especially during a 15-shot second period in which Nashville, predictably, made a serious push after the Wild built an early two-goal lead. Stalock would have none of it, as Minnesota carried that two-goal lead into the final frame.
Stalock finished the game with 37 saves.
The game itself was billed as the biggest of the season (so far) for Minnesota, which will play Nashville two more times over the final 16 games of the season. The Wild moved one point ahead of the Predators in the standings with the victory. Nashville began the night in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Video: NSH@MIN: Fiala toe drags, scores fantastic goal
Winnipeg's win over the Buffalo Sabres kept the Jets one point ahead of the Wild in the standings and vaulted Minnesota's rivals to the north into the second wild card position, but the Wild has a pair of games in hand.
Bottom line: both the Wild and Predators seem likely to be right there at the end, and this win could certainly play a major part in who ends up ahead of who when the chips are down a month from now.
2. Welcome back, Luke Kunin.
The Wild forward, who missed the past five games with an upper-body injury, was back in the lineup and made his return in style.
Video: NSH@MIN: Kunin gives Wild early lead
Just 4:07 into the game, Kunin found himself all alone in front of the Predators net and on the receiving end of a great pass by Joel Eriksson Ek behind the goal. Kunin's first shot was stopped by Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros, but the rebound came right back to him. He had all kinds of time and space to adjust, change his angle and beat an outstretched Saros for his 14th goal of the season.
3. The Wild and Predators competed on the ice Tuesday, but they did so with heavy hearts.
The city of Nashville is reeling after a devastating tornado ripped through the heart of the city early Tuesday morning, killing at least 25 people and causing tens of millions of dollars (and perhaps far more than that) in damage to homes and businesses.
Wild owner Craig Leipold, along with his wife, Helen, have deep ties to the Nashville area from when they owned the Predators, and felt the need to do something. So they announced before the game that they would donate $50,000 to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to help support relief efforts, half of it on behalf of the team and the other on behalf of their family.
The National Hockey League then matched that donation for a total of $100,000, all of which is headed to a great cause.
"My family spent over 10 years in Nashville during the time we owned the Predators," Leipold said. "We have wonderful memories of our time there and our hearts go out to the community."
In the wake of destructive tornados, power outages, road closures and rescues throughout Davidson and surrounding counties, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has activated the Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund to support the affected communities and nonprofits helping victims address their ongoing needs. Grants from the Fund will be made to nonprofits providing vital services both immediate and long term.
Fans can help support those affected by the storms in the Nashville area by donating to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee at www.cfmt.org or by volunteering for Hands On Nashville at www.hon.org.