By Alan Ferguson
Nashville (40-33-8) at Minnesota (38-33-9) 8:00 p.m. EDT
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) -- Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire
might be behind the bench for his final home game on Friday
night. The Wild could also see one of their top forwards in
uniform for the last time.
With Lemaire considering retirement and free agency looming for
Marian Gaborik, the Wild will try to keep their flickering
playoff hopes alive against a Nashville Predators team trying to
maximize its own postseason hopes in its regular season finale.
The Wild talked the only coach they've ever had out of
retirement last season, but injuries and inconsistency have now
pushed them to the verge of elimination. To make its third
straight postseason, Minnesota would need to earn two points
both Friday and in its regular season finale Saturday evening in
Columbus, and Anaheim and St. Louis would have to lose their
final two contests in regulation.
If the Wild fall short of the postseason, the 63-year-old
Lemaire is expected to consult with his family and Wild general
manager Doug Risebrough before making a decision. Under Lemaire,
the Wild advanced to the 2003 Western Conference finals, but
have lost in the first round in each of the past two seasons.
Losing Gaborik for 65 games with an ailing hip was the biggest
blow this season for Minnesota, and leading goal scorer Owen
Nolan sat out 23 games. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns
have also missed time down the stretch.
"It's been a little frustrating," Lemaire said. "Because of the
injuries, we never had a full team. Maybe a couple of games and
that's it. And when it happens to your key players, then it's
hard to get the players having a good feel about the group."
Gaborik, who set career marks with 42 goals and 83 points last
season, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July and
is mum on his plans. The right wing has scored in five straight
games, and has eight goals and five assists since his return
Gaborik's performance hasn't stopped his team's inconsistency.
Minnesota has alternated wins and losses over its last 12 games
dating to March 17.
The Predators kept their postseason chances alive with Thursday
night's 4-3 shootout victory in Detroit. Jason Arnott and J.P.
Dumont helped Nashville overcome a two-goal deficit in the third
period, with Dumont netting the tying score with 59 seconds left
Arnott's winning shootout attempt pushed the Predators into a
three-way tie for seventh with Anaheim and St. Louis at 88
points, but they will likely need help as the Ducks and Blues
each have two games remaining.
"This is the biggest game of the year," said Arnott, who has
four goals and two assists in three games since returning from a
concussion. "(Friday) night will be the biggest game of the
In Nashville's last two meetings with the Wild, Pekka Rinne and
Dan Ellis recorded shutouts, but the Predators are 2-7-1 with
two ties in Minnesota since January 4, 2002.