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Watch Minnesota Wild vs Nashville Predators Live NHL MATCH DETAILS Head to Head: Minnesota Wild vs Nashville Predators Live Date: Thursday, February 6, 2014 Time: 8:00 pm ET Competition: NHL hockey
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The Minnesota Wild will try to head into the Olympic break with a fifth straight victory at home as they host the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.
Following a 1-1-2 road trip, the Wild returned home to best the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 on Tuesday. Dany Heatley had the deciding goal early in the period, while Darcy Kuemper was solid with 34 saves.
Nino Niederreiter also scored and Jared Spurgeon assisted on both goals in his return to the lineup. The defenseman had missed the last 14 games with a foot injury.
“I liked the way our guys came into this game,” Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo said. “You could tell they had the right focus defensively and execution wise.”
The Wild improved to 20-7-2 at home this season and won’t play again after tonight until Feb. 27 in Edmonton due to the league’s break for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Minnesota forward Zach Parise is serving as captain for the U.S. team at the Games, while teammate Ryan Suter is an alternate captain.
The Wild own the first of two wild card spots in the Western Conference and won’t have defenseman Marco Scandella for tonight’s game after he suffered a sprained knee versus the Lightning.
Minnesota lost its first meeting with Nashville this season, but has rebounded with back-to-back shutout wins over the club. The Wild enter this encounter with a shutout streak of 168 minutes and 46 seconds in this series.
The Preds have not scored versus the Wild since Eric Nystrom’s successful penalty shot in the first period of a 3-2 win on Oct. 8.
Kuemper recorded his first NHL shutout in the last meeting, a 4-0 victory in Nashville on Jan. 12.
The Predators were aiming for a third straight victory on Saturday, but had to settle for just a point in a 4-3 setback to the St. Louis Blues in a shootout. Nashville fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season.
The Preds rallied from two goals down to take the lead on tallies by Paul Gaustad, Mike Fisher and Roman Josi, but gave up the game-tying goal just 16 seconds after Josi tallied at 7:33 of the third period.
“I thought it was a great point for us,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “You’re down to the St. Louis Blues 2-0 and it’s a real hard rink to come into. They come at you hard. I thought as game went on, we got better and better.”
Carter Hutton allowed three goals on 34 shots and Josi notched his fourth goal and 10th point in his past nine games. David Legwand had an assist on Josi’s goal, giving him a point in four straight.
Nashville, which will host Anaheim on Saturday, is four points out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference and could get both Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen back in the lineup tonight.
Both forwards have missed the last four games with upper-body injuries, but practiced on Tuesday.
The Nashville Predators felt happy to pick up a point their last time out.
They might feel good about just getting a goal against the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild have held the Predators scoreless for eight straight periods as they seek a fifth straight home win Thursday night.
Nashville (25-23-9) has not played since Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss at St. Louis as it missed a chance at a three-game win streak. Mike Fisher and Roman Josi had third-period goals against a Blues team which is third in the Western Conference.
The Predators are 6-2-2 in their last 10. They have two games left before the Olympic break and are four points out of a playoff spot.
“We’re fighting for our lives here,” Fisher told the league’s official website. “Two (points) would have been awesome but against a good team like this, sometimes that’s the way it goes and we’ll take one.”
Nashville is eight points behind Minnesota (30-21-7), which is playing its final game before the Olympics.
“It’s important,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “You want to finish strong, you want to go into the break feeling good, feeling good about the team, feeling good about yourself. And I think hopefully we recognize that and come out and play hard Thursday.”
The Predators did all their scoring in the first period of a 3-2 victory over the Wild on Oct. 8. Minnesota responded by taking the next two matchups, as Josh Harding made 16 saves in a 2-0 victory Oct. 22 and Darcy Kuemper stopped 23 shots in a 4-0 win Jan. 12.
Last month’s victory was the first career shutout for Kuemper, who was solid Tuesday with 34 saves in a 2-1 home win over Tampa Bay.
That contest marked the return of Jared Spurgeon, who had two assists in his first action after missing 14 games with a foot injury.
“I think there’s lots of adrenaline that helps you,” Spurgeon said. “At the start I was a little nervous being off for a month, but they threw me right out there for the opening shift and that helped me really calm down and get my feet wet for that first one.”
His return could be critical since fellow defenseman Marco Scandella exited Tuesday, favoring his right leg as he skated off the ice with assistance. Coach Mike Yeo labeled Scandella as “doubtful” for Thursday.
This matchup features defensemen among the leaders in ice time. Suter, who spent his first seven seasons with Nashville before signing with the Wild in 2012, leads the NHL with an average of 29:44. Shea Weber averages 26:42 and Josi 26:11 for the Predators.
Minnesota has scored on the power play in four straight games for the first time since March. Nashville’s penalty kill is one of the league’s worst at 79.8 percent, and has yielded six goals in opponents’ last 15 chances.
David Legwand has a point in four straight games for the Predators but has none in the season series against the Wild. Weber, second on the team with 38 points behind Legwand, also has no points versus Minnesota.
Zach Parise did not record a point against the Lightning after amassing eight over his previous three games.