NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville Predators know there’s a chance they might see the Minnesota Wild in the postseason.
That makes a 3-0 shutout in the final regular-season game between these teams even sweeter.
Filip Forsberg and Kevin Fiala scored 10 seconds apart late in the second period, and Pekka Rinne made 31 saves for his third shutout this season in the Predators’ 3-0 win Saturday.
The Predators snapped a two-game skid with a victory that tied them with the St. Louis Blues at 91 points. The Blues hold the tiebreaker, and the Predators visit St. Louis on Sunday needing only a point to clinch a third straight playoff berth.
“(Sunday) is probably the biggest game of the year so far, and it’s going to be fun,” Forsberg said. “It’s going to be really fun to go in there and try to climb the standings as high as we can.”
For the Wild, this was their fifth loss in six games after finishing March 4-10-2. Worse, Chicago locked up the Central Division title and the top seed in the Western Conference with Minnesota’s latest loss.
“We’ve got to come to play every game,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We can’t be satisfied with a 5-1 victory every once a week here. We’ll get back to the drawing board tomorrow and see where it goes.”
Boudreau took a timeout with 2:43 left in the second period, and that’s when the Predators took control.
Forsberg scored his 31st goal of the season by tipping the puck in at 17:21 — just 4 seconds after the Wild timeout. Then Fiala scored unassisted, skating in front of the crease and putting a wrister into the open net past goalie Alex Stalock 10 seconds later.
“We couldn’t recover from that,” Wild left wing Zach Parise said.
P.K. Subban added a long empty-net goal with 2:23 left.
After a scoreless first period, Nashville got the first man advantage when Wild center Mikko Koivu tripped defenseman Roman Josi at 4:33 of the second. Just after the power play ended, Stalock came out to the edge of the crease to smother a shot from Calle Jarnkrok.
Minnesota stuck with Stalock for a second straight start after he made 18 saves in a 5-1 win over Ottawa on Thursday night, his first start for the Wild this season. Boudreau said the score could’ve been worse if not for Stalock’s play as he and Rinne put on a goalie showcase early.
Parise, who missed a game with an eye injury, popped Rinne’s mask off with a shot at 8:33 of the second. Rinne quickly stopped a slap shot from Christian Folin and a wrister from Parise after putting his mask back on.
Then Boudreau took his timeout. The Predators came in outscoring opponents by the NHL’s biggest margin in the second period and showed why almost immediately.
“Obviously, it was two big goals at a good time,” Forsberg said.
Nashville improved to 28-1-5 when leading after two periods, with Rinne helping shut out the Western Conference’s top-scoring team. The Wild came in having scored 249 goals, second-best in the NHL, and couldn’t beat Rinne. He posted his first shutout since Feb. 2 when he made 19 saves against Edmonton.
His best save came with 2:38 left. Mikael Granlund was a few feet from the net, shooting at an empty net, when Rinne reached back and got enough of his glove on the puck to deflect it off the post behind him.
“I got lucky with that Granlund shot,” Rinne said. “That should have been a goal.”
NOTES: Rinne now has 43 career shutouts. … The Wild took the season series 3-2. … Predators forward James Neal, who took a puck off the side of his head in Thursday night’s loss to Toronto, missed the game. Forward Craig Smith returned after missing that game with an upper-body injury. … Josi now has 26 points in 26 games (six goals, 20 assists). … Nashville forward Colin Wilson played in his 500th career NHL game.
Wild: Host Colorado on Sunday.
Predators: Visit St. Louis on Sunday.
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