The Minnesota Wild Beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 in overtime Thursday night to run their home ice winning streak to 5 games. Swiss Olympian Nino Niederreiter scored the game winner 2:14 into the extra session, his 11th goal of the season to go with 18 assists for 29 points and a team high +11 rating. Darcy Kuemper got the victory in goal raising his record to 8-3-2 with an impressive .917 save % and a a goals against average of 2.46. On the night Kuemper stopped 16 of the 18 shots he faced as the Minnesota defense kept the Predator shooter’s at bay blocking another 9 shots. The rookie net minder’s confidence continues to grow with each outing and his teammates comfort level with his play rises game by game as well.
The Wild now have 69 points in the ultra competitive Central Division of the Western Conference. Minnesota is currently in 4th place with 7, 8, and 9, point cushions, respectively, over Dallas, Winnipeg, and Nashville. The Wild are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and even with that record have been unable to make up any ground in the race for third place with the Colorado Avalanche, who lead the Wild by 8 points in the race for third in the Central. Minnesota’s overall record stands at 31-21-7, with impressive marks of 21-7-2 at the Xcel Energy Center and a rather pedestrian record of 10-14-5 on the road. I’d say that the Wild’s best chance of catching and passing the 3rd place Av’s come with improving their road record to .500 or better. Throughout most of the season the Avalanche have had several games in hand on the Wild and at the Olympic break that number will have dropped to just a single game.
The best news for the Minnesota Wild is the injury bug seems to be loosening it’s grip on the team. Zach Parise is back with a vengence, scoring 4 goals and 5 assists in 5 games since his return. Jared Spurgeon has made his presence known with the primary assists on both a goals the Wild scored in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. That victory also won a t-shirt and picture related bet for me with a rabid Tampa Bay Lightning fan. Spurgeon also had an assist on the OT goal that sent the Wild into the Olympic break on a positive note. Captain Mikko Koivu is said to be very close to returning to game action and may very well suit up for Team Finland in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympiad. Goal tender extraordinaire, Josh Harding, is also nearing a return to action as his Doctor’s finish adjustments to his multiple sclerosis treatment protocol. Having Koivu, Parise, Spurgeon and potentially Harding back in action after the Olympic Break would be a luxury the Wild haven’t enjoyed since mid December. Defenseman Marco Scandella suffered a sprained knee against Tampa Bay but is expected to be ready to go when the Wild take on the Oilers in Edmonton on the 27th of this month.
Thursday night the Wild were a team not to be denied two points. Minnesota came out strong, kept the pressure on the Predator’s, and limited Nashville’s scoring opportunities in the 3-2 OT victory. The Wild jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 4:05 into the opening period as Jonas Brodin took a Nino Niederreiter pass, raced down the side wall and snapped off a shot the beat Pred’s net minder Carter Hutton. The Predators would tie the game just 1:45 later. Nashville goalie Hutton would firs a long pass up ice that Craig Smith reeled in a snapped off a shot at Wild net minder Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper thought he had the puck caught up in his gear, unfortunately that was not the case. The puck had dropped out right in the crease and before Kuemper or any other Wild player could react, Smith surged forward and poked it home tying the score a goal apiece. Minnesota would finish the opening period up 2 to 1 on an absolute snipe of a goal by Zach Parise at the 13:27 mark. With Nashville’s Rich Clune in the box on a hooking call Dany Heatley hit Parise on the tape with a great pass from the left circle. Parise loaded up and beat Hutton with a rocket of a wrister that sailed by Hutton’s blocker for the score. The power play goal was Parise’s 10th power play and 19th goal overall. The 10 power play goals rank Parise 3rd in the NHL. The assists on the goal were the 13th for Heatley and the 18th for Jason Pomnmille.
Nashville would tie the game at two goals each 7:40 into the second period. Craig Smith would tip the puck past Wild net minder Kuemper off of an initial shot by Victor Bartley. The goal would be Smith’s 18th of the season, the assist Bartley’s 4th. That would be the only goal of the second period The score would remain knotted at two throughout the final frame including a couple of very close calls for both teams. Each side would ring a shot off of the upright during the third period. These were solid pipe hits, clearly heard in all corners of the arena. As the overtime session started it became apparent the Wild were not going to be denied this night. Minnesota controlled the play for the majority of the 2:14 it took to score. The final play came as Kyle Brodziak, a member of the Wild’s excellent 3rd line, cleared the puck after Pred’s Captain Shea Weber broke his stick. Niederreiter took the puck and headed down the right wall, put a move on a Nashville defender, then unleashed a wicked wrist shot that cleanly beat goalie Hutton for the game winner, securing two points for the good guys heading into the Olympic Break. The majority of the announced crown of 18,766 were still in the arena and erupted as Niederreiter’s shot hit the back of the net.
The Wild now send five players to the Winter Olympic games in Sochi. Zach Parise is Captain and Ryan Suter is one of the Assistant Captains of Team USA. Nino Niederreiter is going to be playing for Team Switzerland, while Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund will skate for Team Finland. GonePuckWild.com will be providing you with all the coverage possible. Dakota, Ger and Myself will keep you up to date as Team USA goes for the gold in Sochi, Russia. Until next time this is Scott Drain, Shouting, Loud, Proud and in the best Team USA fashion, “Let’s Go U-S-A, Let’s Go U-S-A!!”