ST. PAUL, Minn. – After 12 wins in their last 14 games before the all-star break, the Nashville Predators could’ve been forgiven for one clunker following their post-Christmas surge.
Ah, but this game was 60 minutes, too, just like all the others. Even a 4-1 deficit midway through the third period at Minnesota wasn’t enough to slow them down.
Mike Fisher scored two of Nashville’s three goals in the last 3 1/2 minutes and the Predators stunned the Wild 5-4 on Tuesday night for their fifth straight victory.
“They don’t ask you how, but sometimes how many,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “We weren’t as good as we needed to be, but we found a way.”
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne won his 10th straight start despite giving up more than two goals for the first time during that stretch.
“We’ve got to leave in a hurry and make sure they don’t take these points away,” he said.
Patric Hornqvist scored his team-leading 15th goal with 3:21 left after taking three whacks at a loose puck at the edge of the net with David Legwand distracting goalie Josh Harding during a scrum in the crease. Wild coach Mike Yeo said he thought Harding had it covered and saw the official about to blow his whistle.
Fisher scored 21 seconds later after Martin Erat faked a shot and sent a cross-slot pass to him instead. Then Fisher connected again with 21 seconds remaining, flipping a seemingly harmless shot on net from behind the right circle that slipped underneath Harding’s pads and sent a groan throughout the Xcel Energy Center crowd and winces up and down the Wild bench.
“If you’ve ever been punched in the stomach really hard, that’s pretty much what this one felt like,” Yeo said.
Fans booed the Wild off the ice.
“No way in 100 years should we have lost that game,” Harding said.
Clayton Stoner blindly sent the puck back along the boards from the corner. It went straight to Fisher, who said he couldn’t even see the net with Matt Cullen converging. He was just hoping for a rebound.
“I just threw it to the net and just found a hole somehow. You never know. I think it surprised me as much as anyone,” Fisher said.
Dany Heatley’s first two-goal game for Minnesota was wasted. Brandon Yip’s first goal for Nashville since being picked up on waivers brought the Predators within two after a replay review reversed a dead-puck call on the ice. Throughout the final frame, Yeo said he saw a tired team.
“We looked completely out of gas. Still that’s no excuse. They were tired, too. They had the same amount of time off,” Yeo said.
Matt Halischuk had a goal and an assist for the Predators, who outshot the Wild 12-7 in the final period.
“We just tightened up and were thinking too much instead of just playing,” defenceman Justin Falk said. “That’s why we do the drills we do.”
Cal Clutterbuck added a goal in the second period for the Wild, Kyle Brodziak also scored and Heatley notched an assist for his second three-point game in the last three contests. Minnesota lost for the first time in more than three years at home when scoring four or more goals in a regulation game.
Cullen and Nick Johnson each had two assists for the Wild, who began the unofficial second half of the season in eighth place in the Western Conference playoff chase. The Predators were fifth but just three points behind league-leading Detroit.
Nashville is 13-2 since Christmas, with a 40-24 edge in even-strength scoring during that spurt. Rinne improved to 8-3-1 against the Wild in his career, despite giving up a goal 89 seconds into the second period and 16 seconds into the third. He stopped 21 shots.
“It goes to show our talent, our determination,” Rinne said. “We’ve been like that the whole year.”
Nashville’s defence looked as though it was still on vacation early in the game. All-Star Shea Weber took a holding penalty in the first period, and Heatley scored a highlight-reel goal for the Wild’s 23rd-ranked power play to make it 2-0.
Kevin Klein tried to glove a floating puck, couldn’t handle it and let Cullen swoop in and take control behind the goal line. Cullen sent a pass in front and Heatley knocked it inwith his stick at waist height, as if he were laying down a bunt in baseball, as he lost his balance and stumbled backward.
But the Wild really stumbled in the end.
“It’s someone different stepping up every night, and that’s why we’ve been winning,” Fisher said.
NOTES: Wild D Marek Zidlicky was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. Due to make $4 million this season and next, Zidlicky has not scored in 34 games and is a minus-6. Zidlicky missed 13 games earlier this season because of a concussion. … The Predators matched their franchise record for most wins in a calendar month, finishing 11-2 in January. They were 11-5-1 in March 2010. … The Wild fell to 15-1-3 when leading after two periods this season.