Minnesota 3, Nashville 1

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ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA (TICKER) —The Minnesota Wild moved one step closer to the first playoff berth in franchise history while putting a damper on the Nashville Predators’ postseason hopes.

Jim Dowd scored from a near-impossible angle and former Predator Cliff Ronning added an empty-net tally as the Wild posted their third straight victory, 3-1 over the Predators.

In just their third year of existence, the Wild moved into a tie with Anaheim for sixth place in the Western Conference, six points ahead of eighth-place Edmonton with 12 games remaining.

With Minnesota already ahead by a goal and enjoying a power-play opportunity, Dowd took a feed from defenseman Lubomir Sekeras while standing on the goal line below the left faceoff circle and blasted a slap shot past out-of-position goaltender Tomas Vokoun midway through the second period for a 2-0 lead.

“We were just working down low,” Dowd said. “Lubo made a great pass. I didn’t have to yell or anything, I knew it was coming over to me. I just shot it as hard as I could, I didn’t even look. I knew no one was there. Sekeras had gotten the goalie to come out and I just shot it as hard as I could.”

Scott Walker halved Nashville’s deficit less than 10 minutes into the third, but Ronning secured the victory for the Wild by adding an empty-netter against the franchise he leads in all-time scoring.

Dwayne Roloson stopped 22 shots for his 19th win, tying the franchise record set by Manny Fernandez in 2000-01, the Wild’s inaugural season.

The loss was costly for the Predators, who trail the idle Oilers by six points for the final playoff berth in the West.

“I know we’re going to hear it tomorrow, how big this loss was,” Walker said. “But we knew a month ago that we weren’t going to win out. We’re not looking at this as being devastating. One thing we can’t let happen here is get our heads down. We’ve got to keep our heads up, go back out there and we’ve got to get on another roll.”

“For us, it’s great to keep (Nashville) as low as possible,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “If they would have got a win against us, they get two points closer. Now, they might run out of games. But it’s a very good team.”

With 10 goals in their previous two games, the Wild grabbed a lead 39 seconds into the second period.

Selected eighth overall in the 2002 draft, Pierre-Marc Bouchard pounced on a turnover by Oleg Petrov at the blue line and roofed a shot from in front over Vokoun after breaking in alone for his sixth goal of the season.

“It was my second chance on the breakaway and I didn’t want to miss that one,” Bouchard said. “I went top shelf, and it was a pretty important goal at the beginning of the second period.”

“(Petrov) was not aware of the pressure and turned it over,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “They ended up going in all alone and scoring. They had two chances to score in that second period and they scored on both - the turnover by Petrov and the power play.”

The tally was Bouchard’s first since February 9, snapping a 12-game drought.

Dowd’s goal while on the power play at 9:04 was his second in three games, giving Minnesota a 2-0 cushion after two periods.

The Wild’s hopes of improving to 25-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes lessened when Walker put the rebound of Vladimir Orszagh’s shot between the pads of goalie Dwayne Roloson at 9:42 of the third for his 15th goal.

But Ronning, who scored 81 goals and 226 points in 301 games as a Predator, spoiled his former team’s comeback hopes by slamming a shot into an empty net with 28 seconds to go.

“Obviously, it’s an emotionally charged game for me,” Ronning said. “Anytime you pack up and move your kids out of a city, it’s going to bring out some emotion. I just wanted to make sure I got it in the net.”

The loss by the Predators clinched a playoff berth for Dallas, which lead the Western Conference with 95 points.

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