The Nashville Predators control their fate. The red-hot team is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, as the injection of youth following the trade deadline has made the playoffs possible. Over their next 18 games, they need to move past the struggling Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are 3-5-2 in their last 10 and are not looking like the same team from earlier in the season. The Calgary Flames also remain in the race; however, they are behind the Preds and playing mediocre.
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The Predators could have a more favorable schedule. Despite 11 home games and seven on the road, 13 of the remaining 18 games are against playoff teams. It will be challenging, but the Predators have the talent to squeak into a wild-card spot in an open Western Conference.
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Calculating a minimum points threshold is never easy, so let’s use last year’s final wild-card team in the Western Conference. That team was the Predators, with 97 points. They need to go 12-6-0 or earn 24 points over their next 18 games to meet this mark. Doable? Of course. Anything is possible in the NHL. Is it likely? Not really. Here’s a look at their 18 remaining games broken down into four categories, starting with games where they should expect a win or at least a point.
Fans Should Expect A Predators’ Win
March 14: Detroit Red Wings (Home)
March 16: Chicago Blackhawks (Home)
April 1: St. Louis Blues (Home)
You can’t expect a win in the NHL. Even the last-place team can knock off a playoff-contending team in a single match, like the Predators losing to the Arizona Coyotes on March 9. Regardless, these teams were sellers at the deadline and are not making a last-ditch playoff run. The Pred’s next two games, against the Red Wings and Blackhawks, will essentially show whether they are serious; two regulation losses and they can kiss the playoffs goodbye. These two games are as easy as it gets, and they must capitalize on weak opponents while the Jets and Flames are struggling.
A Hope and a Prayer
March 19: New York Rangers (Away)
March 28: Boston Bruins (Away)
April 3: Dallas Stars (Away)
April 6: Carolina Hurricanes (Away)
You also can never expect a loss; however, these games are against the best in the NHL – three division leaders and a loaded Rangers team integrating Vladamir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane into their offense. Also, the Bruins are chasing NHL history for the most regular-season wins, and the Stars will never play a division foe lightly. These teams never take a night off and play the game well. Their game against the Hurricanes will be the Predators’ third game in four nights; even a point against the Canes will be impressive despite the dire need for them. Finally, among these teams, the Predators were the only sellers; the Preds are the worse team, but we know the best team doesn’t always win.
Winnable Games for the Predators
March 21: Buffalo Sabres (Away)
March 23: Seattle Kraken (Home)
March 25: Seattle Kraken (Home)
March 26: Toronto Maple Leafs (Home)
March 30: Pittsburgh Penguins (Away)
April 3: Vegas Golden Knights (Home)
April 14: Colorado Avalanche (Home)
These seven games are against teams that are streaky, injured, presumably resting players, or in the same position as the Predators. The Golden Knights and Maple Leafs’ streaky play leaves fans wondering which version they will get on any night. Add a Ryan O’Reilly injury and the many plaguing the Golden Knights, and these matches become much more favorable for the Preds.
The Sabres and Penguins will bring their best as they fight to make the playoffs. The Kraken are mediocre – not playing badly, but not outstanding either – and the Avalanche will likely be resting players in their final regular-season game on the end of a back-to-back, making it a much more winnable game than expected.
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Every team here, aside from Seattle, bought at the trade deadline. The Predators’ home record is 16-11-3, and five of these games are at home. They must improve on that relatively average record to become a more significant threat to the Jets and Flames.
Must Wins For The Playoffs
March 18: Winnipeg Jets (Home)
April 8: Winnipeg Jets (Away)
April 10: Calgary Flames (Away)
April 13: Minnesota Wild (Home)
I don’t blame you if you get anxious looking at these matches. Playing the Jets and Flames one day apart will tell the hockey world who will make the playoffs and who has ruined their chances of drafting Connor Bedard with a late-season surge. The do-or-die nature of these games is as real as it gets for the Predators. In theory, they could be far out of a playoff spot by the time April rears its head, but it’s hard to believe that will happen given their current play.
The outlier here is the game against the Wild. The 81st game on the schedule is followed by a date with the Avalanche the following night. While it is easy to consider both games must-win, it would be unfair, considering it’s a back-to-back. They will be better rested against the Wild, meaning it is the more important match, while the Avalanche might rest some players ahead of the playoffs. Six of eight possible points would set up the Predators for a real shot at the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What Are the Odds?
The remaining 18 games will push the Predators to play their best hockey of the season. Money Puck only gives the team a 14.1% chance of making the playoffs; other models are practically the same. Fans should be excited; a chance is still a chance. Their roster makeup resembles a retooling team, mainly after they sold at the NHL trade deadline. The risk in this late push is that they removed themselves from a shot at Bedard due to the new draft lottery odds. Still, this late-season run for the playoffs makes the NHL more competitive, which results in a better product for all fans.