With five players heading to the Olympics and scores of others heading to the Caribbean, Mexico and other fun places in the sun, Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged his players not to look past the Nashville Predators. After the game — not before, Yeo said, Wild players could turn their brains off, forget about hockey and think about the beach. It wasn’t easy, but against a scrappy Predators team that had been off since Saturday, the Wild soared into the Olympic break with a 3-2 overtime victory Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center. Nino Niederreiter is one of the five who won’t be off the next 20 days. He will represent his native Switzerland in his first Olympics. He left on a good note, scoring his first career overtime winner for his second goal in two victories to help the Wild, 11-4-2 in its past 17, gain a seven-point cushion in the wild-card race. “So much excitement going on to have a chance to represent your country, but at the same time, we wanted to finish first here,” said Niederreiter, 21. “I can move on and I’m very happy the way it worked out.” Niederreiter was the recipient of two “fantastic defensive plays” by Jared Spurgeon and Kyle Brodziak. Brodziak backhanded the puck into the neutral zone, Niederreiter caught up to it, built some speed and turned inside on his Olympic roommate and close friend, Roman Josi. Niederreiter sniped a bullet from inside the right circle through Josi’s legs and into the top far corner of the net. “It feels great I got the goal against him,” Niederreiter said kiddingly about Josi. “I might mention it. I don’t think he’ll be happy about it. We needed those points. It felt like a playoff game out there.” Player after Wild player said the same thing. Players wore their road whites and in a play on the cold weather lately, the team tabbed it the “polar vortex” as fans got replica white jersey T-shirts. “I asked them for a playoff type mentality coming into the game,” Yeo said. “That’s a lot to ask for in February when you’re about to go on a long break, but they brought it.” The Wild took a 1-0 lead at 4:05 of the first period when Niederreiter stole a puck from Michael Del Zotto and fed Jonas Brodin for his eighth goal past goalie Carter Hutton, who made 33 saves.
Swiss Olympian Niederreiter sends Wild into break with OT winner
Minneapolis Star Tribune | Feb 7