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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

now."

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.

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

down."

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

lead.

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

morning."

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