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Wild 3, Predators 1: Minnesota earns crucial win to stay in playoff race

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Six wins out of the last eight games for Minnesota.

Nashville Predators v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

Following a tough 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Sunday, the Minnesota Wild actually entered Tuesday night’s tilt on somewhat of a high note. Despite the defeat, Minnesota’s performance against one of the better teams in hockey was encouraging.

The Nashville Predators, on the other hand, entered Tuesday night’s contest with a completely different energy. Not only were they dominated on home ice by the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, but they were also dealing with the aftermath of the violent tornadoes that devastated the Nashville area early Tuesday morning.

Understandably, the Predators were playing with heavy hearts following the deadly storms in Tennessee. To their credit, though, that didn’t slow them down one bit — especially in the second and third period, where the Preds led Minnesota in shots 32-21.

Still, those strong 40 minutes weren’t enough to slow down a surging Wild team that has now won six of its last eight games.

Minnesota broke the ice early in the first period when Luke Kunin, playing in his first game since February 21, beat Preds goalie Juuse Saros to give the Wild the lead. Joel Eriksson Ek took full advantage of a Nashville turnover behind the net to feed the uncovered Kunin on the doorstep.

Kunin now has 14 goals on the season.

Of course, while the Kunin goal was impressive, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Kevin Fiala, who has been lights out over the last month, scored an even prettier goal.

Not long after Kunin’s tally, Fiala pulled off a highlight-reel goal that Wild fans will be talking about for some time. Fiala raced into the offensive zone on the rush, toe dragged around Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis and sniped one right past Saros to double the Minnesota lead.

There’s so much to love here. The speed, the skill, the patience — everything that makes Kevin Fiala such an electric player was put on full display. This kid is no joke, folks. Make that 51 points on the season for the 23-year-old.

After a scoreless second period, things got a bit interesting in the final frame. Zach Parise gave the Wild a three-goal lead with a greasy goal early in the period, but it wasn’t long before Craig Smith finally got the Predators their first goal of the night on the power play. With just under 15 minutes to play, the Predators were very much still alive.

Thankfully for Minnesota, though, goaltender Alex Stalock stepped up in a big way in the game’s homestretch. He made a number of massive saves in the third period to cement the win for Minnesota, including this series of stops on a late Nashville power play.

At the end of the night, Stalock finished with 37 saves (17 of which came in the third period) on 38 shots. The 32-year-old netminder has stepped up big-time for the Wild this season, and his performance Tuesday night was among his best of the season.

With this 3-1 win in the books, the Wild passed Nashville in the standings and are now just one point out of a playoff spot. The Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks both occupy the wild card spots in the West, but Minnesota has two games in hand on the Jets, who the Wild will take on in Winnipeg on March 20.

Might want to clear your schedule for that one.

Answers to our Burning Questions

1. Can the Wild continue their power play surge?

Not quite! The Wild got seven (7!) chances at the man advantage Tuesday night, and they failed to convert on all of them. The Wild wound up winning the game, so many will give the power play a pass. But to not score on seven attempts? Not great.

2. Will Fiala keep feelin’ it?

Kevin Fiala may be the greatest hockey player to ever live. The man has been unstoppable the last few weeks, and he kept the phenomenal play going Tuesday night with his fifth straight multi-point game. Fiala is turning out to be one of the most exciting players in recent memory for the Wild.

3. Can the Wild PKers keep the Predators at bay?

For the most part, yes. They did allow one power-play goal in the third period, but Minnesota killed off each of Nashville’s other four attempts at the man advantage. Not a perfect night for the PK, but certainly not a poor performance by any means.