ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Nino Niederreiter’s goal with 2:44 left in overtime lifted Minnesota to a 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night, the fifth straight home win for the Wild.
Jonas Brodin and Zach Parise scored early to offset two goals for the Predators by Craig Smith, who raised his team-leading total to 18. Carter Hutton made 33 saves and helped thwart a Wild power play in the waning minutes of regulation, but that wasn’t quite enough.
Niederreiter snagged the puck off the boards and raced toward the net on the rush, setting up his wrist shot with some slick stick work. He faked back and forth before firing away, sending his shot between the legs of defenseman Roman Josi, who happens to be his OIympic teammate for Switzerland.
Smith tied the game midway through the second period when he redirected defenseman Victor Bartley’s shot past Darcy Kuemper, who made his 12th straight start in goal for the Wild. The Predators hit the post twice in that middle frame and with another try in the third period.
Kuemper made 16 saves, and the Wild improved to 21-7-2 at home this season.
Wild coach Mike Yeo stressed to his players this week the danger of looking ahead to the break and not letting up against a team behind them in the standings, and their first-period performance suggested the message was received.
After Niederreiter stole the puck from the Predators along the boards, he passed it ahead to Brodin, who flicked a wrister past Hutton for the lead just 4:05 into the game. Less than 2 minutes later, Smith tied it. Kuemper reacted like he had the first attempt controlled, but the puck skipped off his chest and over his shoulder, and Smith raced into the slot to poke in his own rebound.
But Rich Clune was called for hooking midway through that opening frame, and Parise surged in from the point for a pass from Dany Heatley. That set up his 19th goal of the season, including 10 on the power play, to Hutton’s stick side like Brodin’s score.
Kuemper’s backup was Johan Gustafsson, just called up from AHL affiliate Iowa. Had he found out before the season that Kuemper and Gustafsson were going to be the goalies available for the last game before the Olympic break, well, Yeo might’ve gulped hard and braced for big problems.
But with Josh Harding out, with what the team has described only as an illness, as he continues to adjust to medication for multiple sclerosis, Kuemper has been as steady as could be expected in his first extended NHL action. The 23-year-old, a sixth-round draft pick in 2009, is 7-3-2 since Jan. 12, a franchise record for consecutive games played by a rookie goalie. Kuemper has given up 27 goals in those 12 games.
Gustafsson was the backup instead of Niklas Backstrom, who was scratched because of abdominal soreness and, due to health and performance, has been an afterthought this season in the net.
The Predators had a jarring start to their day, when television announcer Pete Weber was taken for emergency heart surgery and general manager David Poile was hit by an errant puck that flew off the ice during the morning skate and hit him in the face where he was standing behind the bench.
Poile was staying in a hospital overnight for observation and evaluation, the team said, and was unable to be present for the pregame ceremony the Wild held for all the Olympians in attendance for each team. Poile is the general manager for Team USA.
NOTES: Wild D Marco Scandella sat out due to a sprained knee sustained the previous game. LW Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers and was sent to Iowa to make room for Gustafsson. … The Wild wore their new white jerseys for just the second time. Everyone in attendance got a white T-shirt, too. … Smith has 20 points and 12 goals in his last 23 games. … Weber was said to be resting comfortably in the hospital, where he was to stay for a few days before returning to Nashville. He’ll miss the game on Saturday.
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