ADVERTISEMENT

Niklas Backstrom tried to clear the puck in the third period. It was intercepted by Martin Erat who scored on the empty net and gave the Predators a 2-1 lead.

Carlos Gonzalez, Dml - Star Tribune

NASHVILLE 3, WILD 1

Up next: 6:30 p.m. Friday at Detroit • Joe Louis Arena • TV: FSN (100.3-FM)

Backstrom's gaffe costs Wild in 3-1 loss to Nashville

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
  • Star Tribune
  • January 23, 2013 - 6:37 AM

The moment Niklas Backstrom left the crease, you could hear a distinct "uh-oh" from the Wild faithful.

All goalies have been there: A puck escapes the offensive zone and slides your way with an opposing player on the trail.

Do you stand your ground and wait for the breakaway? Or do you gamble and try to beat that oncoming player to the puck?

Backstrom chose the latter with the score tied with Nashville in the third period Tuesday night. He won the race. And then, he passed the puck right into Martin Erat's trousers.

A few seconds later, the Predators' most skilled forward stuffed the puck into a wide-open net as three sprawling Wild players, including Backstrom, couldn't retreat in time. A power-play goal later, and the Predators skated off with a 3-1 victory to hand Minnesota its first loss in three games.

"Rolling puck, so maybe I should have stayed and waited for the breakaway," Backstrom said. "But I got to the puck. I have to clear it out. I don't know. You start to think after that, 'Would you do it different?'"

The Wild played a strong game defensively, giving up five shots in the first period and one shot in the first nine minutes of the third. But other than Dany Heatley's third goal of the season 6 minutes, 2 seconds into the game, the Wild couldn't beat Chris Mason again despite quality chances.

The Wild would pay for the lack of finish.

"At the end of the night, we did turn it into a bit of a 50-50 game, the type of game that allows a bounce to be the difference," coach Mike Yeo said.

Moments before Backstrom's blunder with 8:15 left, Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon misread each other in the offensive zone and Parise's errant pass rolled all the way to the Wild end.

"I kind of misread what [Spurgeon] was doing," Parise said. "He was jumping in and I anticipated him staying back."

The puck rolled on edge toward Backstrom.

"It's a bad feeling. I've been on the other end of that," Mason said. "When the puck goes like that, you're caught in between."

Still, Backstrom beat Erat to the puck above the circles. But Erat, 31, read Backstrom perfectly.

"Marty's been around the league," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He knows in a position like that, [Backstrom's] going to go to his forehand. Huge for us because we were running on fumes."

Yeo said, "That puck just died in kind of the worst spot," adding that the shame is Backstrom played "a great game up to that point."

Parise and Heatley combined for 10 of the Wild's 30 shots and have four of the Wild's six goals through three games.

"We've got to find a way to put some pucks [in] the net and generate some offense from our second and third lines," second-line left wing Matt Cullen said.

The problem is since a six-day training camp, the Wild hasn't practiced because of the 48-game condensed schedule.

"We're three games into this season after not playing hockey games in eight months," Yeo said. "We're trying to play guys into game shape still, and trying to develop chemistry and trying to define our game."

The Wild has watched hours of video, but as Yeo said, "video's video." For a system to become second nature, players need to practice.

"You can put it in their heads, but until you start getting the reps, ... you're not going to develop the habits," Yeo said.

The Wild will get the chance to practice the next two days before a two-game trip starts Friday in Detroit.

© 2014 Star Tribune