Nashville Predators right wing Matt Halischuk (24) trips as he fights Minnesota Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky (3), of the Czech Republic, for the puck in the third period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, March 10, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Coach Barry Trotz has a simple plan for his Nashville Predators trying to move back into one of the West's eight playoff spots with time running out.
Just win. Yes, it's cliche, but Trotz also knows from experience it works this time of year.
"Been there, done that," Trotz said after his Predators beat Minnesota 4-0 Thursday night. "We've got to keep winning games to be in the top eight because the teams ahead of us aren't going to lose any or very few. So you've just go to keep winning. If you do that, we'll be there. If you look at the teams that we're chasing, they're playing the teams we're right with."
Joel Ward and Martin Erat each had a goal and assist as the Predators scored three in the first period to start a five-game homestand. Nick Spaling scored two goals, and Pekka Rinne stopped 19 shots for his third shutout of his career against Minnesota and sixth overall this season.
David Legwand added two assists to help the Predators break out of a slump while going 3-5-2 over the last 10 games. Nashville took the season series against the Wild 3-1, winning the last three by a margin of 13-1.
"That was great," Rinne said of having so much offensive support. "We're so used to playing those one-goal games, and we've been having a tough time scoring goals so obviously confidence-wise and everything, it was a big win. Four goals, they go a long way."
Minnesota started a four-game trip with a loss and with Mikko Koivu still out with a broken finger and forward Cal Clutterbuck (upper-body injury) scratched. Coach Todd Richards said he's not expecting either Koivu or Clutterbuck to return soon.
"We have to figure out a way," Richards said.
The Predators returned home from a trip having slumped out of a playoff position all the way to 10th in the West and came into the game a point behind Minnesota. Now the team that has played more road games than anyone else in the NHL gets to finish off the season on home ice with the Wild the first of 12 games in Nashville.
"It's going to be really hard at home because teams are going to come in battling for points," Trotz said. "We're going to need those points, and every game is a big game."
They certainly opened this game with a sense of urgency.
Ward scored his ninth this season at 3:13 with a snap shot from the inside edge of the left circle on a nice pass from Legwand from behind the net. Spaling scored 48 seconds later from in front off a backhand pass from Jerred Smithson as he was falling down.
"We've been on the other end of that, and it can be very deflating," Smithson said about the quick goals. "We stayed with our game plan. We did the right things and capitalized on our chances, which is something we haven't done lately."
Nashville took 10 of the first 11 shots, and Erat made it a 3-0 lead at 12:32 off a rebound of Ward's shot, flipping the puck over Niklas Backstrom's glove as he fell back into the net. The Predators missed a chance to pad the margin when Brent Burns went to the box for throwing an elbow at Spaling's head when Sergei Kostitsyn missed the puck from the slot in the final minute.
"We didn't start well, Wild defenceman Nick Schultz said. "They are a team that starts extremely well at home, and we weren't ready for it."
The Wild still had Martin Havlat, who has scored more points (35) against Nashville than any other NHL team. But he didn't take a shot through the first 40 minutes when Nashville outshot the Wild 24-9 and 31-19 overall.
"We didn't have an answer for it," Richards said of the Predators' early offence. "We didn't have a lot of push back tonight."
Minnesota started shooting more in the third, but Spaling iced the victory with both teams skating 4-on-4 scoring from in front on a pass from captain Shea Weber at 14:59. Spaling has had two two-goal games against the Wild.
NOTES: Predators forward Mike Fisher played less than two minutes in the third and didn't return. Trotz said Fisher was fine and he gave him a break with a 3-0 lead. Trotz also said he hadn't heard anything else. ... The Predators improved to 31-4-1 when scoring at least three goals, 23-4-7 when scoring first and 24-2-4 when leading after two periods. ... Erat came in with 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) in the last 17 games, and he had a goal and an assist within the first 13 minutes. Legwand extended his point streak to four games (1 goal, 5 assists). ... Minnesota now goes to Dallas looking to win a franchise-record 19 road wins this season. ... Wild defenceman Clayton Stoner (lower body) also was scratched. ... Minnesota is 8-25-2 when the opponent scores first. ... Spaling has seven career goals, all at home.