ST. PAUL, Minn. — Nino Niederreiter is excited to head to Sochi, Russia this weekend and participate in his first Olympic games.
First, he had to gain some bragging rights over his soon-to-be Swiss teammate and roommate Roman Josi.
Niederreiter, in his first season with the Minnesota Wild, said he was just picking up speed as he streaked down the right side in overtime on Thursday against the Nashville Predators. The only player between Niederreiter and Nashville goaltender Carter Hutton was Josi, the Predators’ defenseman.
Niederreiter gained the offensive zone, cut to Josi’s front and released a sizzling wrist shot through Josi’s legs and past Hutton’s right side to give Minnesota a 3-2 win and send the Wild into the Olympic break on an 11-4-2 stretch in 2014.
"Yeah, I’m actually very tight (with Josi)," Niederreiter said. "We’re going to be roommates in the Olympics. It feels great to get the goal against him, but obviously it was a big win for us and just really happy about it."
Will Thursday’s goal come up between the two roommates?
"I might mention it to him right now, but I’m not sure if he’ll be happy about it," Niederreiter said. "At the same time, like I said, it was a big win for us and we needed those points. It felt like a playoff game out there because it was a pretty tough one."
It was Niederreiter’s first game-winning goal in the NHL and he added an assist for the fourth multi-point game of his career. Niederreiter might be heading into his first Olympics on a high hockey note, but also a bad start with his roommate.
"I’m not happy with him tonight, definitely not," Josi joked. "It was a good play by him."
Niederreiter, who was acquired by the Wild from the New York Islanders on NHL Draft day in June, was named to Team Switzerland for his first Olympic games. Niederreiter has 11 goals and 18 assists in 59 games this season for Minnesota after being rescued from a bad situation in New York.
A former No. 5 overall draft pick by the Islanders in 2010, Niederreiter was rushed to the NHL as an 18-year-old. He then played 55 games in his second year, with just one goal and reportedly clashed with team management and asked for a trade.
He spent all of last season in the minors before being acquired by the Wild in exchange for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round pick. Niederreiter scored for the second straight game and finished out strong with Minnesota before heading to Russia.
"It’s been really impressive," coach Mike Yeo said of Niederreiter’s play in the two home games this week. "For a young kid obviously to have an opportunity to go to the Olympics, but to put everything that he’s had into our team, I think that says an awful lot about him."
The Wild also restrained themselves from looking past Nashville and into the two-week break.
"I was real impressed with our guys, the way that they approached this game," Yeo said. "I asked them for a playoff-type mentality coming into the game, and that’s a lot to ask for in February when you’re about to go on a long break, but they brought it."
Jonas Brodin, who was a mild snub in not being elected to Team Sweden for the Olympics, scored his eighth goal of the season. Zach Parise added his 19th goal before he heads to Sochi as the captain for Team USA, and Darcy Kuemper made 16 saves in his 12th consecutive start in goal.
"I think we’re all mature enough that we understood we have a game still before and I don’t think that was ever a concern about guys thinking about their flights tomorrow or their plans for the break," Parise said.
Minnesota, with 69 points, extended their lead in the Western Conference to six points over eighth-place Vancouver.
And now Niederreiter will join Josi in Russia. Parise and Wild teammate Ryan Suter will play for Team USA, while Mikael Granlund and Mikko Koivu, if he can be medically cleared, will play for Finland.
"I think that pace of the (Olympic) game, it’s so good for a player to play at that level with all those good players at that speed and that type of intensity," Parise said. "From my experience last time, then you come back and you just feel so good about your game and the way you’re playing. It’s almost as if everything comes a little slower when you come back, it’s great."
Zucker to have surgery, Haula sent to Iowa: With Minnesota off now until it returns to practice on Feb. 19, the team made a few personnel decisions for players during the break.
Yeo mentioned after the game that forward Jason Zucker, who has four goals and one assist, will have a "minor procedure."
"Zucker has got a minor procedure that he has to have, and we all expect him to return to be able to practice with us when we come out of this break," Yeo said.
Rookie forward Erik Haula, who has two goals and two assists, was reassigned to the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League to keep playing during the break.
Goaltender Johan Gustafsson, who was recalled to back up Kuemper on Thursday because Niklas Backstrom was dealing with abdominal soreness, was also sent back to Iowa. Forward Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers Thursday and was reassigned to Iowa.