Bergeron, Wild crush Predators to keep playoff chances alive

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) — 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 Minnesota set a season high
for goals Friday night in an 8-4 victory over the Nashville
Predators, but the Wild were eliminated from playoff contention
a few hours later when Anaheim advanced to overtime against
Dallas en route to a shootout victory. Nashville dropped out
when St. Louis beat Columbus.

“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

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.

Andrew Brunette, Kim Johnsson, Dan Fritsche, Mikko Koivu, Cal
Clutterbuck and Marek Zidlicky also scored for the Wild, who
will finish the season Saturday night at Columbus.

Jason Arnott scored twice, and Shea Weber and Steve Sullivan
also scored for Nashville.

“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.

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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

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

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