ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Craig Smith had two goals and two assists for Nashville, and the Predators finished the season strong with a 7-3 win over the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.
The Wild wrapped up the first wild card spot in the Western Conference earlier in the week and already had their first-round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche set before the game, so there were few motivators other than the maintenance of health and momentum and maybe a statistical milestone or two.
Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, though, didn’t do himself or the Wild any good with this shaky performance, as meaningless as the game was against a Predators team that missed the playoffs for a second straight year. Nashville went 9-1-2 in its final 12 games, including eight regulation wins, but finished in 10th place.
One of the reasons the Wild were safely in, rather than scrambling to win their last game to qualify last season, was the sturdiness shown by the 33-year-old Bryzgalov down the stretch with their top three goalies unavailable due to injury or illness. This was his first regulation loss in 11 starts – he went 7-1-3 – since arriving the day before the trade deadline. But this was ugly.
Ryan Ellis, Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Smith scored consecutively in the second period, and Bryzgalov was benched at the second intermission. Including his previous game, Bryzgalov gave up eight goals in a span of 43 shots.
Rich Clune had a goal in the first period, and Calle Jarnkrok and Smith scored against goalie John Curry in the final frame.
Erik Haula, Jason Pominville and Zach Parise scored for the Wild, who gave up a season-high seven goals.
The Predators killed every penalty over their previous five games, a streak that ended when Parise scored his 29th goal – he missed 15 games earlier this season – early in the second period to give Bryzgalov and the Wild a 3-1 edge.
Bryzgalov posted back-to-back shutouts in victories over Pittsburgh and Winnipeg on April 5 and 7, but in a win over Boston he gave up three goals on 24 shots in regulation, though he was unscored upon in the shootout. Curry, the fifth goalie used by the Wild this season, made 43 saves on Thursday to beat St. Louis in his first NHL appearance in more than four years.
The Russian’s return to the net was rough. Bryzgalov, acquired from Edmonton for a fourth-round draft pick, stopped only 16 shots in this one.
NOTES: After going 5-14-5 on the road in last season’s lockout-abbreviated schedule, the Predators finished 19-15-7 away from home. … Pominville became only the third different player in Wild history to hit the 30-goal mark. Marian Gaborik and Brian Rolston were the others.