ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Ryan Donato’s bid to tie the game caromed off the crossbar, and the Minnesota Wild were stuck with another agonizing defeat.
Juuse Saros made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season and Ryan Johansen scored a short-handed goal as the Nashville Predators beat the Wild 1-0 Monday night.
With 1:30 to play and an extra skater on the ice, Donato found himself 1-on-1 with Saros in the left faceoff circle. His wrist shot beat the goalie but hit the crossbar, leaving Donato inches from scoring the game-tying goal.
“That sort of epitomizes the way it was going, and the season,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Getting chances to score and not burying them.”
Minnesota is 2-7-1 in its last 10 games and 2-8-4 in its last 14 home games. The Wild, who remain two points out of the last playoff spot in the West with five games to play, have scored just four goals in their last four games.
“This is the most pivotal time of the year for us, and we can’t have games where the pucks just don’t find a way into the net,” Donato said. “You’ve got to find a way to force one in. We only needed one and we didn’t do that.”
Meanwhile, the Predators clinched a spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the win. They are in second place in the Central Division, two points behind Winnipeg. It’s the fifth playoff appearance in coach Peter Laviolette’s five years with the Predators.
“It’s a credit to the guys in the room,” Laviolette said. “Everybody goes into the year with good intentions and everybody has a plan in mind, and I’m sure they’re all including the playoffs. So it’s not an easy thing and should never be taken for granted. But our guys worked hard to get to this point.”
The Wild put heavy pressure on Saros after pulling goalie Devan Dubnyk in the final 2½ minutes. Aside from Donato’s crossbar, Saros stood firm as Eric Staal deflected Donato’s centering pass into the crease and made three other saves down the stretch.
“There’s a lot of players in front when the other team pulls the goalie,” Saros said, “so I try to find the puck and hope that the guys score on the other end.”
Minnesota’s power play came up empty on three opportunities and gave up the game’s only goal as Johansen scored his 12th goal of the season short-handed, just 4:32 into the first period.
With Craig Smith in the box for tripping, Viktor Arvidsson led a 3-on-2 Predators rush, dropping the puck for Johansen just over the Minnesota blue line. Johansen skated to the high slot and his wrist shot beat Dubnyk, who stopped 18 of 19 shots for Minnesota.
“Getting the lead is always very important. We know that just from numbers, that first goal, what it can do in games,” Johansen said. “I had a bunch of time there in the middle of the ice. Good to see one go in.”
Now, the Predators can concentrate on jockeying for postseason position the rest of the season while the Wild have to fight for their playoff lives.
“It is a helpless position. There’s not much we can do about it. Again, the dominos have got to fall in the right area,” Boudreau said. “As long as there’s a breath in our body and we have an opportunity, we’re going to go out and try to play like we did today.”
NOTES: Minnesota played its second straight game without F Zach Parise (lower-body injury). … Nashville forward Rem Pitlick made his NHL debut on Monday. He recently finished a three-year career at the University of Minnesota. Pitlick is the son of former Senators and Panthers defenseman Lance Pitlick. … The Predators swept back-to-back games against the Wild in early March, both in shootouts.
Predators: At Pittsburgh on Friday.
Wild: At Vegas on Friday.
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