Nashville Predators goalie Carter Hutton (30) dives on the puck in front of Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (42) and Minnesota Wild left wing Matt Cooke, right, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Sunday, April 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Nashville Predators finished strong, even if was for naught.
The Minnesota Wild are hoping this is only the start.
Craig Smith had two goals and two assists, and the Predators used a second-period barrage against goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to beat the playoff-bound Wild 7-3 on Sunday.
"Like the last exhibition game before the start of a season, always happy to have that one over with," Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
The Wild wrapped up the first wild card spot in the Western Conference earlier in the week and 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. Well, all but the momentum was accomplished. No new injuries were reported, and Jason Pominville got his 30th goal.
"Obviously it wasn't pretty. It wasn't the way we want to end it and I don't want to make an excuse for it, but I think those things will happen when you're in and the other team is out, playing loose," Pominville said.
For the second straight night, Nashville scored seven times. The Predators won 7-5 at Chicago on Saturday. Good way for coach Barry Trotz, the only bench boss the franchise has ever had, to go out if he's not retained. Trotz said he realized this could be his last game with the team.
"If I said differently I'd be lying," he said.
Bryzgalov, though, didn't do himself or the Wild any good with this shaky performance, as meaningless as the game was. 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.
Bryzgalov, acquired from Edmonton for a fourth-round draft pick, has allowed eight goals over the last 45 shots he's faced. John Curry, the fifth goalie used by the Wild this season, replaced him for the third period.
Ryan Ellis, Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Smith scored consecutively in the second period to steer Bryzgalov toward the bench at the second intermission. Rich Clune had a goal in the first period, and Calle Jarnkrok and Smith scored in the final frame.
Erik Haula, Jason Pominville and Zach Parise scored for the Wild, who gave up a season-high seven goals.
One of the reasons the Wild were safely in, rather than scrambling to win their last game to qualify as they did 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.
Yeo didn't flinch, though.
"I'm not worried about him," the coach said, adding: "You look at tonight, and we were brutal in front of him."
The Predators missed the playoffs for a second straight year, putting Trotz's future in question.
"That's not our decision to make. There's nothing that we could do as players in this locker room. We played our hearts out for him. He's a great coach and we'll see what happens," Weber said.
Nashville went 9-1-2 in its final 12 games, including eight regulation wins, but finished in 10th place—three points below the cut.
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. Nashville also became the only team in the league this season to not allow a short-handed goal, stretching its streak to 99 games without one.
"We stuck with it. You always want to go out on a good note," said Smith, who passed Weber for the team lead with 24 goals. Weber had 23 and Patric Hornqvist finished with 22. Weber tallied a career-high 56 points.
"If he doesn't win the Norris this year it's going to be an absolute crime," Trotz said.
NOTES: With 98 points, the Wild matched their second-best record in franchise history. 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 (five times) and Brian Rolston (three times) were the others. ... Clune was called for roughing and cross checking and slapped with a 10-minute misconduct. He finished with 166 penalty minutes this season, fourth-most in the NHL.