Dallas Stars (37-31-10) at Nashville Predators (47-22-9), 8 p.m. (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) – The Nashville Predators hope to salvage the finale of a three-game homestand on Saturday when the playoff-bound club hosts the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators officially clinched its first playoff spot since 2012 with last Saturday’s win at Washington, but has since gone 0-1-1 to begin a three-game stay in Music City. Nashville dropped a 5-2 decision to Calgary on Sunday before losing in a shootout Tuesday night versus the Vancouver Canucks.
Although it has punched a ticket to the postseason, Nashville is still locked in a heated battle for the Central Division crown. The Preds are tied with St. Louis and just one point in front of the Chicago Blackhawks. All three teams have four games remaining in the regular season, but the Blackhawks and Blues are idle Saturday before facing each other tomorrow night in Chicago.
Nashville owns the tiebreaker over the Blackhawks and Blues with two more regulation/overtime wins (ROW) than both clubs.
“It’s important to keep momentum,” said Preds forward Mike Ribeiro after practice on Thursday. “We’re trying to win the division, trying to finish on top and I think that’s a good reason to stay motivated.”
The Predators lost a back-and-forth battle with the Canucks on Tuesday in a game that ended with Nick Bonino and Radim Vrbata scoring the only two goals of the shootout.
Nashville jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the game was 10 minutes old, but Vancouver evened things with two quick goals in the early stages of the second period. The Preds regained the lead on Viktor Stalberg’s marker with 30 seconds left in the middle stanza, but the Canucks went ahead 4-3 on goals by Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins early in the third.
Mike Fisher would send the contest to overtime after scoring a power-play marker for the Preds with 5:03 remaining in regulation.
Fisher had a goal and an assist, while Pekka Rinne turned away 21 shots. Taylor Beck and Cody Franson also scored for the Predators.
Nashville forward Paul Gaustad left Tuesday’s game after taking a hard hit in the third period and is expected to miss tonight’s game with an upper-body injury.
However, Preds captain and top defenseman Shea Weber could play tonight after missing the past three games with a lower-body issue. Forwards James Neal (upper body) and Matt Cullen (lower body) also are questionable for tonight. Neal has missed the last nine games, while Cullen has sat out the last four.
Nashville is 28-8-3 as the host. After tonight it will play two of three on the road to end the regular season.
With losses in two straight and three of its last four, Dallas has been all but officially eliminated from the postseason race. The Stars are six points out of a playoff spot with just four games left on their schedule.
Dallas has surrendered 12 goals during a two-game slide and seven of those markers came in Friday’s loss to visiting St. Louis. The Blues won 7-5 in a game that featured the four fastest goals in NHL history.
Four goals were tallied in a 49-second time span, setting a league mark according to Elias Sports Bureau. Travis Moen started the span for Dallas with 11 seconds left in the first period. Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz then scored 15 and 32 seconds into the second period, respectively, before Jamie Benn ended the barrage for the Stars just six seconds after Schwartz’s goal.
Benn’s goal 38 seconds into the second was the first of four straight for Dallas, a run which gave the home team a 5-3 lead by the latter stages of the second period. However, the Blues scored the next four markers to end the game.
Despite all the goals neither team converted a power play. St. Louis was 0- for-3 on the man advantage and the Stars failed to score on four power-play opportunities.
Benn had two goals and an assist and Tyler Seguin added a goal and two assists for the Stars. Kari Lehtonen allowed six goals on 19 shots and Jhonas Enroth stopped the one shot he faced in 5 1/2 minutes of relief.
“We didn’t play smart hockey once again. It’s the same old story,” said Benn. “We’re just not playing the right way when you need a lead. You give a good team like that a chance to get back in it, and they’re going to get back in it. Obviously, they took it to us there.”
Tonight’s test starts a three-game road trip for the Stars, who have been better as the away team this season than at home. Dallas is 21-15-2 as the guest compared to a 16-16-8 mark at American Airlines Center.
After completing this swing, the Stars will end the season with next Saturday’s home clash against the Predators.
The Stars have lost three straight in the series with Nashville overall and four in a row in Music City.