Preds eliminated from playoffs with loss to Wild

BY foxsports • April 11, 2009

Jacques Lemaire watched his Minnesota Wild deliver "one of the best games we've played all year" in the most crucial of moments.

He soaked in the roar of the home crowd approving of an inspiring performance, and couldn't help but think of what might have been.

Marc-Andre Bergeron scored twice and the Minnesota Wild set a season high for goals Friday night in an 8-4 victory over the Nashville Predators, who were eliminated from playoff contention a few minutes after the game.

"I wish we would have had more games like this," Lemaire said after what might have been his last home game as coach of the Wild. "Then we wouldn't be in the situation that we are in right now."

Andrew Brunette, Kim Johnsson, Dan Fritsche, Mikko Koivu, Cal Clutterbuck and Marek Zidlicky also scored for the Wild, who needed Dallas to beat Anaheim in regulation later Friday night to remain in the playoff race.

The Wild will finish the regular season Saturday night at Columbus. Lemaire said after the game he has made a decision about his future, but was not ready to announce if he would return for a 10th season as Wild coach.

Jason Arnott scored twice, and Shea Weber and Steve Sullivan also scored for Nashville, knocked out of playoff contention when St. Louis beat Columbus.

"This group never gave up," coach Barry Trotz said. "They can walk out of here proud. Obviously we didn't get the result we wanted tonight."

Marian Gaborik and James Sheppard each had two assists for Minnesota, which went 3-for-3 on the power play and got 31 saves from Niklas Backstrom.

"Tonight was special," Lemaire said. "Behind the bench, I don't know how many times I thought that the guys are playing with their heart, and you can tell. And having the fans appreciate that, it was great."

After a slow start to the game, the Wild played with the intensity and desperation of a team that simply cannot afford another loss.

Arnott opened the scoring with a shot from the slot for his 32nd goal of the season. That broke the previous record set by Sullivan and Paul Kariya in 2005-06.

The Wild tied it up despite vehement protests from Nashville coach Barry Trotz. With just over 7 minutes to play in the first period, the Predators were on the attack when the officials called a delayed penalty. As the puck trickled through the slot, Nashville winger Joel Ward appeared to touch it up, which would have stopped play.

But the officials did not blow the whistle and Fritsche grabbed the loose puck along the boards near the blue line and raced the other way. His shot rolled up and over Rinne's right blocker and into the net to tie the game.

Trotz was livid, waving his arms and yelling at any official within shouting distance, but it did no good.

The goal completely changed the momentum of the game, and possibly Nashville's season.

"An unforgettable break, that's for sure," Nashville center Vernon Fiddler said. "It could cost us the year. We had touched the puck a few times before that where they hadn't blown it down."

The Wild took the lead just before the period ended after a monster shift from Gaborik, Sheppard and Brunette, who held the puck in the Nashville zone for nearly a minute. The shift ended with Radek Bonk taking a holding penalty.

Brunette cleaned up a rebound for a power-play goal and a 2-1 lead.

Fritsche had a hand in the third goal as well, absorbing a high hit from Jordin Tootoo to push the puck up ice to Colton Gillies, who threw a cross-ice pass to Bergeron. The defenseman skated in on Rinne's right and beat him through the five-hole for a 3-1 lead less than 5 minutes into the second period.

Fritsche had to be helped off the ice with a chest injury and did not return, and 6-foot-8, 258-pound defenseman John Scott spent much of the rest of the night stalking the 5-9, 200-pound Tootoo around the rink.

The Predators twice cut the deficit to two goals in the final period, and Trotz was so desperate for a victory that he kept Rinne out of the net for nearly all of the last 2 minutes. Koivu scored a short-hander and Clutterbuck and Zidlicky added empty-netters to seal it.

"We would have liked to play like this the whole year," Backstrom said. "I hope we still have a chance tomorrow morning."


The Wild announced the winner of the Minnesota Hockey Greats contest. The 1966 International Falls High team was voted the greatest high school hockey team in state history. Roseau forward Neal Broten, who went on to star at the University of Minnesota, for the 1980 Olympic team and in the NHL, was selected the state's best player ever. Fans voted on the awards during the season. ... Only in the NHL: A linesman had to pause the game for a few seconds to pick up two teeth from the mouth of Brunette after he was hit in the face with a puck in the second period.

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