SAINT PAUL, Minn. — On paper, it looks like one of those philosophical physics problems about unstoppable forces and immovable objects. But they’re playing on ice.
The Nashville Predators have won five in a row by scoring lots and lots of goals. The Minnesota Wild have won three in a row by not allowing a single goal. Something has got to give when they meet at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
The Predators kept pace in the Central Division race with a 6-3 home win over Washington on Tuesday. It was the team’s most recent offensive outburst.
“I think it’s been coming, even when it wasn’t there. You heard me say that the chances are going to go at some point,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said, referencing a stretch earlier in the season where goals were harder to produce. “A 4 percent on the shooting average for the team is not really who we are. It’s not normal for us, but the chances were there if you continue to push through that. I think the contributions help build the guys’ confidence. When you score some goals, you can build something off of that.”
Minnesota, by contrast, has done it with defense, rattling off three wins in a row. Goalie Devan Dubnyk has three consecutive shutouts and has stopped the last 106 shots he has faced, dating to a 4-2 loss in Toronto on Nov. 8.
“When you see how calm he is back there and the way he’s making saves, it makes us play a different game,” said Wild forward Jason Zucker, who even got an assist from Dubnyk on an empty-net goal late in a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.
If the Wild need offense, they’ll surely look to Zucker, who has seven goals in Minnesota’s last four games. As for the goaltending, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau is not surprised by what he has seen from Dubnyk.
“He did the same thing last year. He was really good most of the year last year,” Boudreau said, making the obvious decision to name Dubnyk the starter vs. Nashville after Wednesday’s practice. “He is seeing the puck right now and his reflexes are on fire. We will take it as long as he can give it.”
Both teams look to be getting healthier slowly, with Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle skating in practice again after missing the past month with a broken bone in his leg, although he has not yet returned to the lineup. Nashville recently saw the return of center Nick Bonino, who had missed a month with a lower-body injury.
“It’s been frustrating for me; I’ve never been out in spurts like this,” Bonino said after the Washington game. “It’s frustrating to sit there and watch your team play. I thought I kept in pretty good shape throughout.”
It’s technically a reunion game for Dubnyk, who was briefly with the Predators in the 2013-14 season, going 0-1-1 in two starts for Nashville.
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