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Wild see importance in win so Granlund comes through big time

Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund, left, celebrates his goal with teammates during the first period Friday night against the Nashville Predators at Xcel Energy Center. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports1 / 3
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk (40) makes a save on Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76) during the second period at Xcel Energy Center on Friday, Dec. 29. (Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports)2 / 3
Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon (46) pokes the puck away from Nashville Predators forward Kyle Turris (8) during the first period at Xcel Energy Center on Friday, Dec. 29. (Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports)3 / 3

ST. PAUL -- Although there’s no such thing as a must-win game in December, the importance of Friday’s game for the Wild against the first-place Nashville Predators was obvious, as a loss would drop them 10 points back of the Central Division leaders.

“We realize the point differential,” coach Bruce Boudreau said before the game. “If we want to stay with the big boys, we know how important (this game) is for us. … Let’s just hope we come out with a lot of energy.”

That’s exactly what the Wild did in the opening minutes of Friday’s game before holding on late in a 4-2 victory.

Mikael Granlund paved the way with a hat trick as the Wild increased their cushion in the Western Conference wild-card race and gained ground in the Central Division.

“We aren’t just looking at wild-card spots,” Devan Dubnyk said pregame before making 41 saves in his return to the lineup. “We want to get up in our division, and the best way to do that is to beat the teams in the division. This is a good opportunity for us tonight.”

Granlund, in particular, made the most of the opportunity, sniping home a pair of goals in the opening frame before finishing off the hat trick in the waning seconds.

“When he’s got that Granny vision going, he’s hard to stop,” Matt Dumba said. This is the Granny we’ve all come to know, and him being one of my good friends, I expect that from him.”

“It was like a yo-yo on his stick tonight,” Boudreau added. “You know, when he gets like that, he’s as good as there is. I hope he can continue it.”

Granlund gave his team the early lead in the first period with a shot from the slot to beat Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne. That came after chances galore through the opening five minutes, as the Wild held an 11-0 shots advantage at one point.

“It was the best start of the year for us,” Granlund said. “It makes it easier the whole game when we have a start like that and put the pressure on.”

Predators defenseman PK Subban tied the score later in the first period before Granlund struck again with his second goal on a perfect shot while cutting to the front of the net.

“The way we responded was huge,” Dumba said. “That’s what good teams do.”

Dumba added what proved to be the game-winner in the second period, unloading a shot from the high slot that found its way through traffic.

In the third period, the Wild were put in a tough position after Dubnyk took an egregious whack at Predators winger Viktor Arvidsson and was called for slashing to start a 5 on 3. Although the Wild managed to kill off half of it, Predators winger Kyle Turris made Dubnyk pay with a top-shelf snipe with the power play about to expire.

That made it a one-goal game, and although the Wild have let leads slip away in the past, for the second game in a row, they held on down the stretch.

“It’s definitely been an area that we need to improve on, and I think we’re getting a little more comfortable within ourselves in those tight games,” Eric Staal said. “We are getting back to that a little bit more. That’ll be important for us in the second half.”

Granlund punctuated the victory with an empty-net goal, and the Wild improved to 2-0-0 this week with a chance to complete the sweep during Saturday’s rematch against the Predators in the Music City.

“It’s big for us, these divisional games,” Granlund said. “(We have) one more to go tomorrow. Let’s try to get it done.”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.