The Nashville Predators returned home from a four-game Canadian swing that saw the team pick up five of a possible eight points. The team ran their “undefeated in regulation” streak to a team record fourteen games (9 wins, 5 overtime losses) before dropping a 4-2 decision in Vancouver.
The road trip ended on a happier note, however, with James Neal supplying all the offense in a 3-2 win vs. Edmonton on Monday night.
Seventy games in the books, and the Preds sit in a wildcard position in the Western Conference with 83 points. It would take a monumental collapse for this team to miss the postseason, and based on the current success of the group, it would appear the team has punched their ticket to a date with destiny, and a shot at the Stanley Cup.
How far the team will go is anyone’s guess at this point, but the fact remains, with twelve games to go and eight of them at home, hockey will be intense and meaningful down the stretch.
If you are unfamiliar with how the seedings create the matchups, I offer you a quick overview of the situation. The Western Conference has two divisions, the Central and the Pacific. Eight teams will move forward into the post season, with the top three teams in each division advancing, as well as two wildcard teams, that have the most points among the remaining teams overall within the conference.
Currently, the Central boasts Dallas (91), St. Louis (91) and Chicago (88), while the Pacific has Los Angeles (89), Anaheim (85) and San Jose (82) as the top three teams respectively. Both wildcard teams will come from the Central, as the aforementioned Predators (83) and Minnesota (75) would round out the group. Colorado (74) is in a dogfight with the Wild for that last spot, and neither team has played well enough recently to secure that final seed, so expect this battle to come down to the final game(s) of the regular season.
The team with the highest point total overall will play wildcard #2, and the other division leader will play wildcard #1. Then the two-seed will host the three-seed creating the first round matchups. If the post-season were to begin today, you would see Dallas vs. Minnesota, Los Angeles vs. Nashville, St. Louis vs. Chicago and Anaheim vs. San Jose.
Los Angeles, having just destroyed both Chicago and Dallas in their home buildings, are a team the Predators really do not want to face. Goaltender Jonathan Quick just recorded his 41st career shutout, putting him atop the all time leader board for U.S. born netminders. The Kings have also found scoring from all of their lines, and have the number one overall defense in the National Hockey League.
How would the Preds avoid this collision course with LA? First, the Kings, as hot as they are right now, could actually overtake the top Central team and end up with the most points in the conference, thereby pitting them against the winner of this Minnesota/Colorado matchup.
That would mean a Nashville battle against Dallas… or St. Louis… or even Chicago, depending on who grabs the top spot in the Central. But wait! There’s more!
Nashville, with eight home games remaining, could get hot enough to climb out of this wildcard spot and grab a position in the top 3 in the Central. This may be a longshot, but only five points currently separate them from Chicago, and the Hawks have lost four of their last five games. Chicago have six home/six road contests remaining on their slate.
Tonight, the Hawks host Philadelphia, and we haven’t even touched on what is going on in the East, but let’s just say this is a pivotal game for the Flyers, who are currently on the outside of the playoff picture. A win tonight, however, would leapfrog Philly ahead of the idle Detroit Red Wings, and into the Eastern Conference post-season picture.
There’s a lot on the line for Philly and Chicago, coming off their 5-0 pasting at the hands of the Kings had best try to right their ship or face uncertain waters with the Preds hot on their heels.
As for our team, Nashville hosts the New York Islanders on Thursday night, and then board a plane for a Friday night contest against the Eastern leading Washington Capitals. Caps head coach Barry Trotz has lead the team to a startlingly great season, as Washington has already clinched their post season berth, and are a shoo-in for the President’s Trophy, awarded to the team with the best regular season record in the NHL. The Caps have a remarkable 105 points with 13 games left to play.
While no team looks to take their foot off the gas heading into the playoffs, Trotz has the ability to give some of his key players a night off down the stretch in an effort to have a rested, healthy group competing in the post-season next month. While I am sure there won’t be any gifting of two points in Washington, the Preds may catch a break as Washington may phone in a few down the home stretch.
Los Angeles is in town on Monday, and we’ve already stated the implications that will be on display. Circle that game as a potential playoff preview, and expect both teams to come in with their “A” game from start to finish.
Exciting days lie ahead for the Preds, and we will provide analysis and summary throughout these final regular season games, and expanded post-season coverage. Stick around!