Big week, anyone? Plenty was riding on the Predators’ three games this week, including a big four-point swing potential against Winnipeg. The Central Division race is an agonizingly close one with Nashville still hoping to win its first division title. En route to doing that, it’s setting franchise records for consecutive games with at least a point. And finally, as the season begins to wind down, teams will start to clinch playoff spots. Nashville had its opportunity to do just that this week, too. So, how did everything play out?
Tuesday (3/13) vs. Winnipeg Jets: W 3-1
The week started off with a home game against the Winnipeg Jets. Both Nashville and Winnipeg have been fighting for the top spot in the division, so this was a crucial game for both clubs. Winnipeg was on the back end of back-to-back games and was forced to start backup goalie Michael Hutchinson in only his third start of the season. However, the 28 year old was a perfect 2-for-2 in his first pair of starts. The Jets were also without starting forwards Mark Sheifele and Paul Stastny.
In terms of production, this was probably the best opening to a game the Preds had all season. Three minutes in, Kevin Fiala was scored after Roman Josi found him with a beautiful no-look pass. Then, Nashville took a minor penalty, and things looked like they were about to quiet down. But it didn’t. Nashville scored shorthanded twice on the same penalty kill to go up 3-0, with one coming from Austin Watson and the other from Viktor Arvidsson.
— NHL (@NHL) March 14, 2018
Nashville never looked back. The rest of the game was unable to match the excitement from the opening sequence. However, it was a dominating performance from Nashville, and it put the rest of the league on notice.
Thursday (3/15) @ Arizona Coyotes: W 3-2
The second game of the week was an away game in Phoenix to face the Arizona Coyotes. Arizona might be at the bottom of the standings, but has won five of its previous seven games before Thursday’s game. The Coyotes are one of the hottest teams in the league, and despite how their season has gone, there are no easy games in the NHL.
The Coyotes started Darcy Kuemper in net Thursday, and he matched Pekka Rinne every step of the way. Neither goalie allowed a goal in the first. They both seemed on their games, but each team registered a goal within two minutes of each other at the beginning of the second period.
After that, though, it was back to business as usual. The goalies did their thing, putting Nashville in for a fight. The Preds found themselves in a hole when Arizona was able to add another goal in an expiring power play to take the lead into the second intermission.
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) March 16, 2018
Whatever speech happened in the locker room during intermission must have worked, because Kyle Turris scored just 22 seconds into the third period to tie the game. Nashville kept the pressure going and opened up some opportune scoring chances. As a result, Fiala found the puck off a face-off and ripped it past Kuemper for the lead just four minutes later. The Preds were able to hang on for the final 15 minutes as they stole two points in Arizona.
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) March 16, 2018
Friday (3/16) @ Colorado Avalanche: W 4-2
The week finished off on a Friday as the Preds traveled to Colorado to face the Avalanche for the final time this season. Nashville got no breaks from teams with momentum — if the Arizona team it beat the night before was hot, Friday’s Avalance team was on fire. Entering Friday’s game, the Avalanche had picked up points in eight straight games. The run had even been good enough to move them into the first wildcard spot. A team that was nearly out of it a month ago held onto a playoff spot, but by the slimmest of margins.
The Preds started backup goalie Juuse Saros in the second game on back-to-back nights. Saros has been excellent in the late half of the season, and proved that again in this one. He allowed a goal in the first and another early in the second, but hunkered down following that goal to give Nashville a chance. The Preds’ offense reciprocated it. Colton Sissons gained a nice confidence boost with two goals. Likewise, Filip Forsberg scored twice, raising his season total to 20 goals.
— NHL (@NHL) March 17, 2018
Nashville won again and tied a franchise record with points in 14 consecutive games. That was not even the biggest outcome from this game, however. With this victory, the Predators became the first team in the NHL to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Although we all pretty much knew the Preds were going, it’s fun to make it official. Now with a playoff spot firmly in hand, Nashville can turn their focus to winning home-ice advantage, something that it’s on pace to accomplish.
Last year, the @PredsNHL had 14 playoff wins.
— NHL (@NHL) March 17, 2018
WHERE THEY STAND
With the emphatic performances this week, the Preds’ divison lead has been pushed to ten points. That’s right, there’s a five-game cushion between Nashville and Winnipeg. Even more exciting is that the Preds are on top of the NHL, too, passing Tampa Bay for the best record in the league. The Preds currently have 104 points and the Lightning have 100. Obviously, no lead is safe, so, the Preds have to keep pushing if they want to maintain the top spot in the NHL and the division.
Closing in on Winnipeg in the standings are the Minnesota Wild. They are at 89 points and are only five away from overtaking the Jets. The Avalanche and the Stars, two Central Division teams, hold the two wildcard sports with 84 points. Anaheim is at 84 points as well, but lose the tiebreaker to the Stars. The Blues look like they want back in the playoffs now after a few wins put them just three points out of a spot. And of course, at the bottom of the barrel are the Chicago Blackhawks with 68 points. They can go ahead and start setting the tee times for playoff dates because they have no shot at playoff hockey anymore.
The Preds have another four-game week coming up, and it definitely won’t be an easy one. They start off with an easy opponent in the Buffalo Sabres, but it’s all uphill after that. Nashville returns home for one game against the Toronto Maple Leafs before hitting the road once again. It travels up north to Minnesota to play the Wild, and then even farther north to play the Jets. It will be tough, but these are the games that mean the most. The Preds will need to tough it out to maintain their position in the standings.
Tuesday (3/19) @ Buffalo Sabres 7 p.m. ET
Thursday (3/22) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs 8 p.m. ET
Saturday (3/24) @ Minnesota Wild 8 p.m. ET
Sunday (3/25) @ Winnipeg Jets 7 p.m. ET
THREE STARS OF THE WEEK
THIRD STAR: Colton Sissons
Sissons had a lot of expectations heading into this season. However, he has not really lived up to the hype. He still does his job well, as he is a quality fourth liner and penalty killer. Even he hasn’t racked up the goals this season, he’s still a scoring threat. He displayed that Friday against Colorado, scoring twice. Maybe those two goals will be a wakeup moment and he will return to the form he was in during last year’s playoff run.
SECOND STAR: Pekka Rinne
Honestly, there’s not much left to be said about Pekka at this point. He is clearly the best goalie in the world right now, and he proves that night in and night out. He always gives his team a chance to win. Theres’ not been a time this season when the Preds have lost and the blame would go on him. He does everything the right way and is finally starting to get national attention for the Vezina Trophy. He went 2-0-0 this week and made 64 saves on 67 shots. Not only does he deserve to win the Vezina, but he should also be in discussion for the Hart trophy as well.
FIRST STAR: Kyle Turris
It’s been a while since Turris has been on this list, but boy, he had a great week. He finished with a goal and three assists and it looks like he’s hitting his groove at just the right time. His command of the second line has done wonders for this team, and it will be exciting to see what it can accomplish in the playoffs if his play keeps up.