Watching the Minnesota Wild play hockey is a bit like watching (if it were possible) your arteries harden. You know those clogged arteries are going to be a problem, you just never know when.
The Nashville Predators took on the Wild at Bridgestone Arena and were able to do just enough against the sclerotic defense of the Wild to escape with a 2-1 shootout victory to extend the Wild's losing streak to 8 games.
Throughout the night, the Wild clogged the neutral zone and the offensive zone, creating problems for the Predators entering the zone and establishing their offense. Yet the Predators kept persisting, kept pushing, and kept fighting. The victory wasn't pretty by any stretch, but fortunately, they don't grade victories on style points.
Pekka Rinne got the start in net for the Predators, while Josh Harding was in net for the Wild.
Rinne got most of the work of the two netminders,as the Wild out shot the Predators 35-25 and created numerous scoring opportunities from in close. Rinne came up with some very big saves for the Predators as the Wild threw the puck at the net often and had several scoring chances from in close. Rinne was outstanding in goal and was exceptional in keeping the Wild off the board early.
The first period was scoreless, but the Wild carried the play early. With 6 minutes to go in the period, the Wild had out shot the Predators 10-4, but a late flurry by the Predators narrowed that margin to 11-10. The Wild threw pucks at the net, and there were times where the Predators defense had trouble clearing the front of the net, forcing Rinne to make some big stops from close range.
The second period was more of the same. The Predators opened with a strong offensive effort, really their only offensive thrust of the period. Colin Wilson rang a shot off the post from close in, but that was the best scoring chance for the Predators. The Wild spent most of the period bottling up the Predators and not allowing them to establish their offensive flow. In turn, they used their defense to create offense and control the puck in the Predators zone.
The Wild out shot the Predators 11-5 in the second period. Once again, the play of Rinne kept the Predators in the game, as he stopped several close in shots to keep the Wild scoreless.
The Predators defense was over matched in terms of size, but they battled throughout the night, working to keep the Wild to the outside and limit quality scoring chances. Ryan Suter was a workhorse and played a rock solid game. For the night, he logged 29:46 of ice time.
This game had the feel of a one goal contest, and the team that scored first would win the contest.
The team that would strike first would be the Predators at 7:00 of the third period. Jonathan Blum launched a shot from the blue line that caromed off Jordin Tootoo and past Harding to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. The key to this goal was that Tootoo was driving hard to the net and was able to re-direct the shot past Harding.
Those clogged arteries, uh, the Wild were not done, though. They tied the game at 16:01 of the third as Dany Heatley beat Rinne on a wrap around. Rinne scrambled to to get to the right post, but Heatley managed to squeeze the puck between Rinne's skate and the post.
Both teams had to kill off penalties int he last 3:30 of the regulation time, as Jordin Tootoo was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for something he said to an official after a scrum, and Jon DiSalvatore was called for cross checking. Neither team was able to capitalize on the man advantage, and tied at 1, the game was going to overtime.
The overtime was scoreless, but the Wild had 4 shots to none for the Predators, and despite their efforts, we were going to a shootout.
As is the Predators custom, the chose to shoot second. The Wild's first shooter, Matt Cullen, had the -puck roll off his stick and never got off a shot.
Colin Wilson was the Predators first shooter, and he beat Harding with a nice forehand to backhand move to roof the shot over the diving Harding.
Mikko Koivu was stopped by the right pad of Rinne.
Craig Smith missed the net high on his attempt.
The Predators could win the game with a stop of the Wild's third shooter, Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Bouchard attempted a spin move that was stopped by Rinne, and the Predators had the win in the shootout.
With the win, Pekka Rinne continues his dominance over the Wild at the Bridgestone Arena. He ran his record to 5-0, with a .979 save % and a .55 GAA.
Gabriel Bourque was called up by the Predators to take the roster spot of Blake Geoffrion, and he logged 8:05 of ice time. He was strong on the puck and battled hard in the corners. He brings an element of grit, speed, and tenaciousness that the Predators can use, and his play will, in my view, merit more ice time in coming contests.
In one respect, this was not a pretty win. This was a grinding game that was going to be decided by which team made a mistake or cracked first under the pressure of a tight contest. It was not a pretty game to watch.
In another perspective, this was a beautiful win. The Predators were facing adversity with injuries (Weber, Klein) to their blue line, and some young players were thrust into key roles and asked to play some very big minutes. They performed admirably. This team refused to yield to the pressure the Wild brought, and they battled all night, eventually securing the win.
That is character.
These are the tough games that in the course of a season a team has to battle through to win. Sometimes, a win like this isn't flashy and doesn't look good.
Except on the score sheet.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Colin Wilson
3. Jordin Tootoo