Nashville Predators left wing Gabriel Bourque (57) slides into Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32), of Finland, after attempting to score during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Martin Erat scored an unassisted goal for Nashville with 8:15 left when Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom couldn't clear the puck cleanly, and the Predators earned their first victory by beating the Wild 3-1 on Tuesday night.
Nick Spaling had a goal late in the first period, and Chris Mason made 29 saves for the Predators in his first start of the season. He denied Dany Heatley off a rush and then on a rebound around the 5-minute mark. He stayed steady while the Wild tried to tie it.
Heatley scored for the third time in three games for the Wild, who failed to finish their three-game homestand unbeaten. The Predators, who lost in a shootout in their previous two games, started a franchise-record-tying, seven-game trip with a strong finish.
David Legwand added another goal for the Predators with 16.2 seconds remaining, taking advantage of a Wild turnover and catching defenceman Ryan Suter with his back turned to the play.
Erat took advantage of a rare mistake by the Wild's relentless star Zach Parise, who sent a pass out from behind his own net to a spot where none of his teammates were close enough to corral. Defenceman Jared Spurgeon was going the wrong way, and the puck kept streaking into the Wild zone with only Erat near it.
Backstrom came out quickly enough to stop the breakaway with his stick beyond the top of the left circle, but Erat blocked the clearing attempt with his legs and chased down the puck at the goal line. He manoeuvred it in toward the net and dumped it in before Backstrom could recover and Spurgeon could dive to stop it.
The fluke goal spoiled Suter's first game against his former team. Suter left the Predators, who drafted him seventh overall in 2003, for a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild that is identical to Parise's deal that was also signed last summer.
Suter, who turned 28 on Monday, tallied 200 assists in 542 regular-season games for the Predators. Both totals are the fourth-most in franchise history. His departure angered general manager David Poile, but Suter and Poile spoke genially in the morning before the teams skated.
The 36-year-old Mason, in his third stint with the Predators, got the start ahead of Pekka Rinne because of the back-to-back games. Rinne is 8-3-1 with a 2.20 goals against average and three shutouts in 13 games against the Wild in his career. Mason was just 6-5-2 with a 3.20 GAA entering the game. He played for Winnipeg last season.
The Wild owned the first period, posting a 12-5 shots advantage, but the Predators made the most of their limited time in the home team's zone. Spaling capped a brief flurry of scoring chances by parking himself to Backstrom's left and knocking in the rebound of Kevin Klein's slap shot with 3:19 left.
The Predators had to be happy with a tie at the first intermission with the way the Wild were racing all over the ice and snagging most of the loose pucks.
Their third line of Spaling, Brandon Yip and rookie Gabriel Bourque was as active as any. Bourque, just recalled from the AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, had a breakaway attempt thwarted by Backstrom's poke check. Bourque crashed into Backstrom and dislodged the net from the moorings.
Notes: All four games between these teams last season were decided by one goal. Heatley totalled five goals and one assist, but the Predators won three times. ... Heatley has 14 goals and 10 assists in 18 career games against the Predators. ... Predators C Paul Gaustad was scratched for the second straight game because of an upper-body injury. ... According to the Wild, the regional cable TV audience for their season-opening win over Colorado on Saturday was the highest in team history for a regular-season game, a 7.65 rating. That's more than 132,000 households. ... The Predators also had a seven-game road trip in 2002. Their next home game will be Feb. 7. ... The Wild went 0-for-3 on the power play and are 2-for-13 on the season.
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