Zucker has 2 goals, assist as Wild beat Predators 5-2

Minnesota Wild's Jason Zucker, second from left, celebrates his goal off Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, right, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Wild have built the best record in the Western Conference with lines that are often mixed and matched.

Except for one trio, that is.

Jason Zucker scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Wild past the Nashville Predators 5-2 on Saturday night.

Minnesota linemates Mikael Granlund and Mikko Koivu each had a goal and an assist, and Eric Staal scored into an empty net as the Wild surpassed last season’s total with their 39th victory.

”I think we feed off each other pretty well, and I think we make sure that we hold each other accountable when we have a bad shift, bad play or bad game, whatever it is,” Zucker said.

Since forming a line on Nov. 25, Zucker, Koivu and Granlund have combined for 110 points and have a plus-84 rating. The Wild are 29-6-4 since then.

”It’s every single game. If they’re not scoring, (they generate) unbelievable chances and they’re responsible at the same time,” said Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk, who made 37 saves. ”(Mikko is) so good all-around. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how all-around of a player he really is.”

Minnesota, which is 6-1-1 in its past eight games, has a nine-point lead over Chicago in the Central Division and is one point back of Washington for the most points in the NHL. The Wild are 12-1-3 in their last 16 games against division foes.

Colin Wilson and P.K. Subban scored for Nashville, which played for the first time after its mandatory five-day break.

Teams coming off their bye are now 3-12-4.

”I don’t think the five-day break played into it,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. ”We were competitive. We got on the wrong side of the scoreboard early in the game, tough bounces, their goalie played well. . We did a lot of good things.”

Koivu was in front to take advantage of an awkward bounce off the boards and side of the net when he notched his 600th career point with a goal 35 seconds into the third period for a 3-0 lead.

It proved to be the game-winner after the Predators charged back.

Wilson scored on a rebound midway through the period and Subban scored on a slap shot just more than two minutes later. Referees initially waved off Subban’s goal for goaltender interference by James Neal, but a video review showed the contact occurred after the puck was past Dubnyk.

”We got a couple quick ones there and got some momentum and kind of had the ice tilted and then one goes the other way and it’s a big goal for them,” Nashville’s Vernon Fiddler said.

Zucker scored unassisted on a breakaway with 3:19 to play.

”He paid the price defensively to earn that chance and took it from there,” Koivu said. ”If he doesn’t block that shot and be in the lane and defend well, he’s never going to get that breakaway. . We take a lot of pride in that, that we need to be good defensively to create offense. It’s been working.”

Knowing the Predators hadn’t played since Sunday, Minnesota wanted to strike early.

Granlund did just that off a scramble, putting a rebound behind Pekka Rinne for a power-play goal 2:38 into the game.

Nashville, which took three penalties in the first eight minutes and has allowed six power-play goals in its last three games, nearly tied it during the second penalty kill, but Ryan Ellis missed on a short-handed breakaway.

Zucker got his 100th career point with a goal late in the second period, converting a feed from Granlund, who passed around a sliding Subban. Granlund has 22 points in his last 19 games.

”I’ll take those passes from Granny all day,” Zucker said. ”I just put my stick on the ice and I know he’ll probably hit it.”

NOTES: Wild RW Nino Niederreiter established a career high with his 24th assist. … Minnesota activated D Jonas Brodin off injured reserve. He missed 14 games with a broken finger. … Nashville recalled LW Kevin Fiala from Milwaukee of the AHL. He did not play. .. The Predators began a stretch of 26 games in 50 days to finish the regular season.

UP NEXT

Predators: At the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.

Wild: Host the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday in the seventh game of an eight-game homestand, the longest in franchise history.