Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom (32), of Finland, is congratulated by Jason Zucker (16), Matt Cullen (7), Zenon Konopka, second from right, and Devin Setoguchi (10) after the Wild beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 in a shootout at an NHL hockey game on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn.
NASHVILLE – The good news for Ryan Suter is the Wild made its only trip to Nashville this season. The bad news is he’s got 12 more years of what he experienced Saturday night.
Cast as a villain, a turncoat, the worst kind of deserter imaginable, Suter was repaid for leaving the Predators and signing a 13-year deal with the Wild last summer by being booed and mocked unmercifully by the vivacious Bridgestone Arena crowd.
In the end, Suter had the last laugh by being on the winning end of Minnesota’s gritty 2-1 shootout win.
“I was just trying to get through it, trying to block it out,” Suter said. “It’s not fun being booed. It went the whole game, too. That kind of surprised me. They’ll probably have some sore throats [Sunday].”
Mikko Koivu and Matt Cullen scored in the shootout and Niklas Backstrom, who made 24 saves through overtime, was only beaten once as the Wild grabbed a big two points in the front end of back-to-back games that ends Sunday at home against Vancouver.
Suter, the NHL’s ice time leader, logged one second short of 29 minutes and saw the best of both worlds.
He assisted on Zach Parise’s second-period power-play goal and had to sit in the penalty box and watch his former teammate, David Legwand, tie the score on a third-period power play.
But Suter highlighted a strong bounce-back game by the Wild’s defensemen, who struggled in Tuesday’s loss at Chicago. Cal Clutterbuck also had eight hits in his return from a thigh injury. It was the Wild’s first win in Nashville since Dec. 5, 2009, ending a five-game winless streak.
Drafted seventh overall in 2003, Suter had 200 assists and 238 points in 542 games for the Predators. He is more a significant fixture in Nashville’s history than most former players, yet the organization opted not to extend a video tribute to Suter the way it did to Jordin Tootoo and Steve Sullivan this year and Joel Ward last year.
Suter admitted he was hurt by the fan reception.
“I spent seven years here. I had a great time here,” Suter said. “I had a lot of respect for the fans. I mean, I still do. It’s part of being a fan, I understand that, but it’s tough to take.”
The fun started before the game.
During warmups, a dozen Predators fans taped not-so nice signs to the glass, directed at Suter. Several fans depicted Suter as Robin to Shea Weber’s Batman, something Zenon Konopka got a kick from and got Suter laughing, too.
“Sometimes you just have to sit back and laugh and have fun with it,” Konopka said. “If you know Suts as a guy, you knew it wasn’t going to flap him.”
On the Wild’s second of four second-period power plays, Suter whistled a wrist shot through traffic that Parise redirected by Pekka Rinne for his team-leading ninth goal. It was Parise’s fifth power-play goal and gave the Wild’s often-aggravating power play goals in five of six games.
But the Predators tied the score at 1-1 early in the third after referee Chris Lee pulled only Suter out of a pile following Paul Gaustad crashing the net. The crowd absolutely loved Suter being in the box for the goal and gave him the traditional college hockey “It’s all your fault” chant during a raucous TV timeout.
But the Wild stuck with it, and even though it couldn’t score on an overtime power play, it prevailed.
“Our defensemen, our forwards, Backy, everybody contributed right through the lineup,” coach Mike Yeo said. “And that was a hard game. It almost had a playoff feel to it.”
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