The Nashville Predators ended the month of January reeling off four consecutive road wins against Canadian teams that were all struggling to gain any presence in the race to the post-season.
Then came February, and what had felt like a turning point quickly turned against the men in gold.
Four losses in the next five games had the team straddling the line between an early April engagement on the golf course, and the possibility of a Stanley Cup run, which would delight all concerned in Music City.
While the last loss in that five game stretch was an overtime thriller in Tampa, the team started to slowly accumulate some points, and keep the regulation losses off the board. A shutout win in Florida was followed by another overtime loss at home to Dallas.
The Bruins came to town on Thursday and were turned away, again via shutout, courtesy of Pekka Rinne. Saturday, the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings came to town. Although the Preds played LA close, once again the extra hockey that ensued, after the teams were tied at 1 at the end of regulation, came up in the Kings favor.
Disappointed, but not dejected, the team again headed across the border for back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday night against Montreal and Toronto.
With Rinne in nets against Montreal, the team played a solid game, but as had happened in three of the previous five contests, found themselves facing overtime. The team held a dismal 1-10 record in OT, but the odds were finally in the Preds favor once they made it out of overtime and onto the shootout. Craig Smith, who earlier had missed a brilliant chance to get the win in OT, provided the shootout winner and a 2-1 victory at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Traveling to Toronto, the Preds were missing two of their all-stars in the Leafs contest. Goaltender Pekka Rinne was given the night off, replaced by Carter Hutton, who was 3-0-1 in his prior four decisions, including two shutouts.
Also missing from this contest was the team’s captain Shea Weber. Listed as “day-to-day” with a lower body injury, Weber, who normally logs over 25 minutes of ice time during the course of a game, would surely be missed in this one.
Swedish sophomore, Filip Forsberg opened the scoring with his 21st tally of the season, and then followed his first period effort with a pair of goals in the second stanza, and the team held a seemingly comfortable lead after two periods. An early Leafs goal in the third was followed by a late one, to pull within one, but the Preds perservered and hung on for an exciting 3-2 victory in Toronto.
Nashville is now 7-0-2, with points in all of their previous nine road games, and the trip ends in Chicago against the rival Blackhawks. The Hawks are just one point behind Dallas for the top spot in the Central Division.
The Preds, with an overall record of 29-21-11 have 69 points and are ensconced in the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference, with Colorado holding on to the second and final spot at 66 points. Minnesota, who had reeled off four consecutive wins after making a coaching change, lost last night, and sit with 64 points, and on the outside looking in.
The Predators return home for a rare Saturday afternoon game (game time is 2PM) against the St. Louis Blues. The Blues have 79 points and are seeded third in the Central.
It is not out of the question the Preds could go on a sizzling run and catch the Blues, who have recently lost goaltender Brian Elliott for a month. The load now falls on Jake Allen, who, like Elliott, had just missed time due to injury himself. Untested rookie Pheonix (yes, that’s the way he spells it) Copley has been recalled to be the backup netminder during this stretch.
The trade deadline is Monday, and there look to be a solid handful of deals around the league. Whether St. Louis attempts to shore up its goaltending, or the Preds dip their feet further into the water remains to be seen.
We will be back next week, recapping the games, and the possible roster changes the team might make in an effort to nail down that post season berth.