Wild defensemen spur victory over visiting Nashville

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Wild goalie Josh Harding refused to take credit for his first shutout of the season Tuesday in Minnesota’s 2-0 win over Nashville.

Indeed, this victory belonged to the entire defense.

Minnesota held the Predators to 16 shots on goal, all of which were stopped by Harding, as it improved to 4-3-3 on the season with the win. The Wild blocked an additional 19 shots and controlled possession of the puck for most of the night to further eliminate any scoring chances for Nashville.

“I can’t take credit for this one,” said Harding, whose league-leading goals against average shrank to 0.96 after his eighth career shutout. “This isn’t me. This is for sure a team shutout.”

With the offense stalling yet again, Minnesota needed its defense to provide a spark. Justin Fontaine scored late in the first period to give the Wild a 1-0 lead, but the one-goal lead felt bigger simply because of the way the Wild’s defensemen were playing.

At one point, that included playing with just four defensemen. Jonas Brodin left the game early in the first period when he took a puck to the face and had to be helped off the ice. He did not return to the game, and head coach Mike Yeo said Brodin was taken to a local hospital for X-rays. No other information was available after the game.

“That was a pretty hard shot that he took right to the face,” Yeo said.

The Wild also lost defenseman Marco Scandella for the final few minutes of the first period, although he would eventually return. Then early in the third, defenseman Nate Prosser was baited into a fight with Nashville forward Eric Nystrom, leaving Minnesota with four defensemen for a five-minute stretch — a big reason why five Wild D-men finished with more than 20 minutes of ice time.

Minnesota weathered that storm and killed a penalty with Prosser still in the box after Matt Cooke was called for hooking. The penalty-kill unit has been a weakness all season for Minnesota — it has allowed a league-high 10 power-play goals this season — but the Wild finally stood tall on the penalty kill Tuesday.

That 1-0 lead was in jeopardy late in the third period as Nashville had a scramble in front of Harding and the extra attacker on the ice. Once again, the defense came up big. Jared Spurgeon saved the game in the final minute by preventing a goal with a brilliant defensive play, and Jason Pominville eventually added an empty-netter to seal the 2-0 win.

“I felt it go off me and they tried to bank it in,” Harding said of the late scare from Nashville. “It was a smart play on their end. I definitely owe (Spurgeon) one after that.”

Defense hasn’t been a problem for Minnesota so far this season, especially with Harding in net. The Wild had allowed just 2.22 goals per game prior to Tuesday’s contest. They’d been preventing opponents’ shots, too, giving up an average of just 21.8 shots per game.

Nashville’s 16 shots on goal was a season low for the Predators, an indicator that Tuesday was easily the Wild’s best defensive performance of the young season.

“I think we’ve been playing great team defense and we haven’t gotten the reward we’ve been wanting,” Spurgeon said. “Tonight was a perfect example of that. … We didn’t score a lot of goals, but we got that win.”

One of the Predators’ best scoring chances came in the second period after Nystrom slipped past the defense and had a clear shot on Harding. But the Wild netminder made the save, one of his 16 on the night, to keep the game scoreless at that point.

Outside of Nystrom’s shot and the late flurry at the end of the third period, Minnesota didn’t give up much in the way of scoring chances. Finally, a strong defensive effort resulted in a win for the Wild, who have lost three one-goal games so far this season, including one earlier this season to Nashville.

“I was very impressed with our defensive group tonight,” Yeo said. “Those were important minutes that they all played. They all played a lot of minutes.”

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