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Wild falls in shootout to Predators

By Michael Russo, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mike Yeo doesn’t buy that the reason the Minnesota Wild has been successful recently is because the pressure’s off and players feel looser with nothing to play for.

That’s always the annual debate when also-rans win meaningless games down the stretch.

Using Erik Christensen, who has played well after a rocky start to his Wild career, as an example, the Wild coach said earlier this week, “I think if you ask him, I don’t think he feels any less pressure. … He knows he’s playing for a job and that’s a different kind of pressure. It’s not a team-oriented pressure, but it is a pressure that I think all of our guys are feeling.”

Tuesday night, with the Wild riding a three-game winning streak into its game with the playoff-bound Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena, Minnesota put forth another strong effort before falling in a shootout, 2-1.

Christensen, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi couldn’t beat Anders Lindback, while Alex Radulov scored a beauty.

“I looked at their lineup before the game, and it’s a challenge,” said Wild defenseman Justin Falk, who played an outstanding game. “They have a lot up front. I thought the whole back end, we matched that and didn’t give them much and went toe-to-toe with them.”

In the Wild’s fourth consecutive overtime, it was unable to score on a 1 minute, 49 second 4-on-3 power play to start OT. With temperatures nearing 85 degrees outside, the ice was choppy and both teams had trouble handling the puck all game.

Look no further than Christensen. Normally money in the shootout, the puck hopped and he lost it. Prior to the game, a chunk of ice missing in front of the Wild bench exposed cement.

“Just an ugly hockey game all around, but the effort was there,” Setoguchi said.

Dany Heatley scored for the Wild and Niklas Backstrom made 23 saves. Lindback made 25.

The game began with a frightening incident when the skate of linemate Darroll Powe struck center Kyle Brodziak in the face. Blood fell and Brodziak rushed to the bench.

“It was scary,” Yeo said. “I think it shows you how much he’s respected by our whole team. As soon as it happened, there was a lot of concern. We’ve got Mikko yelling over at their bench, ‘Get the doctor, get the doctor’ as the play’s going on.”

Thankfully, Powe’s skate clipped Brodziak’s left cheek and the outside of his nose. Stitched up, Brodziak returned with two minutes left in the period and donned the long visor the Wild specially orders for Heatley.

Sore after the game, Brodziak declined to comment, but unaccustomed to playing with a visor, he seemed to have difficulty playing the puck.

“He came out with a bit of a giggle on his face,” Yeo said.

Yeo was pleased with his team’s performance. The only real mishap was a Clayton Stoner turnover that resulted in a 2-on-0 and a Gabriel Bourque goal. But Stoner responded well, Yeo felt, as did the Jason Zucker-Christensen-Nick Johnson line, which struggled so badly in Chicago Yeo could barely play them.

The Wild looks like a different team with Koivu, who missed 23 games in the second half because of a shoulder injury. And that — not the pressure being off — is why Yeo believes the Wild’s playing well.

“Just go through all the different things he does, from matchups to the minutes he eats, to the penalty killing, to the faceoffs, to the offensive chances he creates,” Yeo said. “There’s so many parts of the game he controls, it can’t be overstated, really.”

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