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Wild shutout in 3-0 loss to Predators; Blackhawks clinch Central

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NHL: Minnesota Wild at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Two goals in 10 seconds. It was essentially a goalie duel at Bridgestone Arena between Pekka Rinne and Alex Stalock in what is likely a preview of a first round match-up between the two teams until Filip Forsberg scored on a deflection at 17:21 of the second period. Ten seconds later, Kevin Fiala streaked through everyone and beat Stalock to quickly put the Predator comfortably in front.

Both teams played fairly even as chances were traded at both ends in a scoreless first period. Stalock made a great sprawling save early to rob Colton Sissons. He even stared down a great chance from the slot by Ryan Johansen for a big save. Unfortunately, the team in front of him couldn’t beat the goalie at the other end. After leading in shots at one point 8-3, Rinne denied some great looks by Eric Staal early.

However, it was the Predators that pushed back in the second period. Play started to tilt towards the Minnesota end. After an icing, head coach Bruce Boudreau called a timeout to give the players stuck on the ice a breather. A defensive zone faceoff right after, and Forsberg was able to get his stick on a Roman Josi shot from the right point that bounced past Stalock. On the ensuing faceoff, Jonas Brodin tried to head-man a pass through the neutral zone that got turned over. Nino Niederreiter tried to fight for the puck back, but when Brodin tried to step up to the blue line in support, he effectively cut off Niederreiter’s way out from the pressure and the puck bounced through Brodin’s legs. Kevin Fiala picked up the puck with a head of steam while Christian Folin watched him deke around Stalock. The goal came at 17:31 of the second period.

Minnesota was close to responding when Rinne stopped a Folin slapper from the point that ended up on Zach Parise’s stick. But Parise had to fight off some pressure from the defenseman before he could get the shot off, and Rinne was able to slide laterally to make the save.

The Predators came out of the second intermission applying a ton of pressure that the Wild couldn’t handle. The only reason they got relief was because Mattias Ekholm was called for high-sticking. Minnesota couldn’t score on the power play, and went 0-for-1 with the man-advantage for the game. With an icing infraction going against the Predators, Peter Laviolette called a timeout. Boudreau decided to pull his netminder, desperate for two goals with 3:28 left in the period. Jared Spurgeon made a perfect feed to the backdoor where Mikael Granlund had a yawning net to shoot into. Granlund couldn’t get all of the puck on a saucer pass for the one-timer, and the shot shanked off his stick blade to the far post and stayed out.

The next play, P.K. Subban cleared the puck from the corner of the Predators’ defensive zone, and a funny bounce directed the long clear into the middle of the empty net. Nashville would finish with a shutout and a big 3-0 win as they look to clinch a playoff berth. Other clinching happened as the loss allowed the Chicago Blackhawks to secure their first Central Division title since realignment and the top spot in the Western Conference. Minnesota’s month of March ultimately made the race for the division title a complete non-story as Chicago clinched comfortably.

Stalock was quite good in the game. The offense wasn’t. Though, the Wild had won 3 of the 5 games in the season series against Nashville. If it is indeed the Predators that Minnesota must face in the first round, then they absolutely need to find a way to shut down Forsberg and not let the physicality affect them.

Wild take on the Colorado Avalanche Sunday in part deux of this weekend back-to-back. Check back to Hockey Wilderness for more game day coverage.