December 31, 2017 / 4:06 AM / in 6 months

Predators blank Wild, take first in Central

Predators blank Wild, take first in Central

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Both coaches knew what was at stake entering the third period Saturday night.

In a 0-0 hockey game, the scorer of the first goal was going to have a big edge.

“Unfortunately,” Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said, “it wasn’t us.”

Instead, it was Nashville Predators veteran Scott Hartnell coming up with the kind of gritty goal that has defined his career, potting his first marker since Nov. 3 to light the fuse for a three-goal period that provided his team with a 3-0 decision at sold-out Bridgestone Arena.

Nashville (23-10-5) jumped over idle Winnipeg for first place in the tightly bunched Central Division. Minnesota (20-16-3) missed a chance to move within five points of first place.

After beating the Predators 4-2 on Friday night, the Wild appeared to derive momentum from that effort during a scoreless first period. They put 10 shots on net to Nashville’s seven and earned two power-play chances.

But beneath the surface of casual stats, trends were appearing in the Predators’ direction. They tried more total shots, and they were outhitting Minnesota. Those factors became more apparent in another scoreless period, but one that saw Nashville spend more time in the Wild’s zone.

The battle of backup goalies was reaching a turning point. Juuse Saros (4-3-2) and Alex Stalock (7-8-1) were matching each other save for save. Something had to change.

That something was a rebound and perhaps a missed defensive assignment. Nick Bonino took a wrister from the right circle that Stalock stopped. But no one marked Hartnell and he pounced on the rebound. Given room to maneuver behind the net, he tallied his fifth goal on a backhand wraparound at 2:23.

“If you look at how he plays, if you draw a 10-foot circle around the net, that’s where he scores most of his goals,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said.

P.K. Subban added a second goal at 7:50 of the period with Matt Dumba in the box after he tripped Calle Jarnkrok at 6:27, canceling a Minnesota power play for the second time on the night.

Subban benefited from a bit of luck on his point blast. It struck right winger Zack Mitchell, took a bounce as though the ice were artificial turf and rocketed by Stalock for his ninth goal of the season. It was the 10th point in nine matches for Subban.

“It’s what happens when you play with good players,” he explained.

Suddenly, the Wild were forced into chase mode in the second half of a back-to-back on the road against a hot goalie. Saros made 29 stops for his second shutout this season and the third of his career. None were bigger than his pad save on a sprawling Matt Cullen during the second period after Cullen beat a defender and got to the goalmouth.

Saros, who struggled mightily during October in his apprentice role to Pekka Rinne, is no longer floundering. He’s ceded three goals in his last four appearances, counting a 26-save blanking of Carolina in relief of Rinne on Dec. 21.

“I thought we played a lot better in front of (Saros) than we did in front of Peks last night,” Subban said. “We felt bad about the way we played in front of Peks. The first five minutes didn’t go our way, but after that, I felt like we had more energy than Minnesota.”

Viktor Arvidsson, who struck the crossbar on a rebound in the first period and smoked a snapper off the right post during a second-period power play, got a measure of satisfaction at 17:40 after Minnesota pulled Stalock for a sixth attacker. Arvidsson potted his 12th goal into an empty net.

Stalock made 26 saves, earning Boudreau’s empathy.

“He just stood on his head the last couple of road games with no reward,” Boudreau said.

NOTES: Nashville placed LW Filip Forsberg (upper-body injury) on injured reserve Saturday and recalled C Frederick Gaudreau from Milwaukee of the AHL. Forsberg leads the Predators in goals with 15. ... Minnesota RW Nino Niederreiter (lower-body injury) missed his fourth consecutive game. ... The Wild’s only healthy scratch was D Mike Reilly. ... Nashville scratches were D Yannick Weber, RW Miikka Salomaki and LW Pontus Aberg.

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