Predators Face Tough Test Down the Stretch to Reach Postseason

The Nashville Predators look close out the season, making a statement. With only five regular-season games remaining on the schedule, four of the final five games are against top contenders, with three being western Conference foes. 

Predators’ Subpar April

First, here’s a look at April so far. The Predators have gone 5-4-1 while fighting to stay in one of the final two playoff spots. The Dallas Stars, who are currently in that final wild-card spot, have almost mirrored that record going 5-4-2, as have the Vegas Golden Knights (5-3-1), who are currently on the outside looking in. This is good for Nashville because they have played poorly at times during this final stretch, losing 4-0 to the Edmonton Oilers on April 14th and 8-3 against the St. Louis Blues back on April 17th.

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That’s not saying the Predators have played horrible, though. They dominated the Minnesota Wild 6-2 on April 5 and just recently found a way to beat the Calgary Flames 3-2 in a shootout. One of the problems this month has been playing down to their competition. They squeaked out wins against the Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, and San Jose Sharks, while losing to the Buffalo Sabres. At this point in the season, these are the kinds of games that the Predators should be winning handily as they battle for playoff position.

Matt Duchene Nashville Predators
Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

One of the month’s highlights was seeing the franchise’s first 40-goal scorer in their 24-year history. In the second period of Tuesday’s shootout victory over the Flames, Matt Duchene reached that mark, and he will likely be joined by Filip Forsberg, who has 39 goals on the season.

Final Five Games

The team only needs five points in the final five games to clinch a playoff spot, but this will not be an easy task. The first stop will be against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning are fighting with Toronto for positioning while trying to stay ahead of the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals in the wild-card race. Tampa Bay has struggled down the stretch and will be looking to turn things around on Saturday night. If that was enough, the very next night, they will be back home to take on the Minnesota Wild, who have only lost once in regulation in their last ten games, which was also to the Predators. The Predators will stay at home and play the Flames, a team looking to lock up the Pacific Division if they haven’t already at that point. This game could be a preview of the first round of the playoffs, so don’t expect either team to take the night off.

Juuse Saros Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To close out the season, Nashville will head out west to play back-to-back games against the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes. They have found success against the Avalanche and lead the season series 2-1. Nashville has proven they can play the high-scoring game Colorado likes to play, beating them 5-4 and 5-2 in the two victories. The next night, they travel to Arizona to play the Coyotes’ last game at Gila River Arena before the team heads to Tempe to play in the new Arizona State University multipurpose arena.

Possible Playoff Scenarios

If the playoffs were to start tomorrow, Nashville’s first-round opponent would be the Flames, which would be a favorable matchup based on the regular season. The Predators have won all three matchups this season, and, oddly enough, all were won by a score of 3-2. If the Stars can surpass the Predators in the standings, their first-round opponent would be the Avalanche. Again, based on the regular season, not a bad matchup. Either way, it looks like this season’s first-round matchup will be a tough test for a team that was supposed to be in rebuild mode this season.

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