It looked like the puck was going to disappear into Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne’s glove and join the legions of other shots that had been gobbled up this season by one of the NHL’s best in the blue.
Instead, Rinne bobbled the puck — an error on the catcher that triggered a game of pinball before Nino Niederreiter hit jackpot when he slung it into the twine after posting up in front of the net.
“That’s where the magic happens, and that’s where we have to go to be successful,” the Wild winger said.
Not only did that finish count as the deciding goal in a significant 4-1 victory over the Predators on Saturday night in front of an announced season-high 19,303 at Xcel Energy Center, it also helped secure Wild coach Bruce Boudreau’s 500th career victory.
Boudreau, 63, is the second fastest all-time to reach the milestone (837 games) and quickest among active NHL bench bosses. He also became the 26th NHL coach to achieve the distinction.
“I think in the summer when I’m with family, it’ll be pretty cool,” Boudreau said. “But right now let’s focus on the game and the team.”
How Boudreau earned the accolade was also memorable. In its return to action after a four-day layoff, the Wild erased an early hole vs. the Western Conference-leading Predators, who skated mostly as advertised — a Stanley Cup contender difficult to decode but still a solvable riddle.
“As long as we’re playing the right way, we feel like we’re going to be able to skate with any team,” winger Jason Zucker said.
Nashville flexed its prowess in the first when it opened the scoring, as center Ryan Johansen put back his own rebound 8 minutes, 37 seconds in.
In time, though, the Wild started to find a rhythm, and only 2:50 into the second, the fourth line capitalized when center Joel Eriksson Ek buried a loose puck in front for his second goal in as many games.
The Wild continued to pressure Rinne on an ensuing power play, with Eric Staal getting a stellar look from the slot that Rinne snagged with his glove.
That glove, though, wasn’t as effective later in the period.
Not long after another power play for the Wild expired (the team finished 0-for-4 with the man advantage, while the Predators were 0-for-2), Rinne couldn’t keep Wild defenseman Ryan Murphy’s throw from the half boards in his glove. The puck bounced into the slot and after Zucker’s shot was turned aside by Rinne, Niederreiter redirected in the rebound at 13:45 for his 18th goal of the season.
“He’s hard to beat any night,” Boudreau said of Rinne, “but you’ve got to be determined.”
In the third period, the Wild received an important insurance goal from Zucker — his 30th goal of the season — after Zucker stuffed the puck in at the near post at 1:29. By reaching the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career, Zucker became the sixth Wild player in team history to score at least that many in a season.
With Staal on the brink of 40 goals, this is only the fourth time the Wild has had a pair of 30-goal scorers in the same season.
“It’s always nice to score,” Zucker said, “but especially getting the win against that team was great.”
Zach Parise added an empty-netter with 1:41 to go. Rinne finished with 26 saves, and Dubnyk had 19 to help the Wild reinstate a two-point cushion over Colorado for the third spot in the Central Division after the Avalanche won earlier in the day.
“It’s going to come down to the wire, for sure,” Zucker said. “So we need to take these wins and run with them.”