With their latest victory, the Detroit Red Wings ensured they'll head to the playoffs for the 17th consecutive time. The Nashville Predators would love to join them, but they're slumping at the wrong time.
The Predators - currently two points out of playoff position - will try to end a three-game slide on Saturday when they go on the road to face the Central Division-rival Red Wings, who are looking for their sixth straight win.
Nashville (35-29-8) has fallen behind Vancouver for the eighth spot in the Western Conference after dropping its last three games, a skid that began with a 4-3 loss at league-best Detroit (47-18-6) on Sunday.
The Predators lost 2-1 to the NHL's second-best team, San Jose, on Tuesday, but then fell 4-1 on Thursday at home against Los Angeles, which has the fewest points in the league.
"It doesn't matter who you lose to," coach Barry Trotz said. "We are going to have to play a lot better with better efforts from everybody. We don't want to lose any games right now."
If Nashville can manage to earn its fourth consecutive berth in the postseason, it could find itself facing Detroit in the first round.
The Central rivals finished last season as the two top teams in the conference, engaging in a division race that came down to the final week of the season. But the Red Wings won, due in large part to them taking the season series between the teams 6-1-1.
There's been no similar race this season, but Nashville has had more success against the Red Wings, going 2-2-1 and outscoring them 13-12.
Still, Detroit is on pace to top its 113-point total from a season ago. The Red Wings beat Dallas 5-3 on Thursday, reaching 100 points for the league-record tying eighth straight season.
"I think you should give our organization a lot of credit for what we've been able to do," said captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who had two assists. "Especially with the new salary system where everybody is on an equal playing field."
Pavel Datsyuk had two goals and an assist against the Stars, extending his point streak to eight games. He has seven goals and four assists in that span, and is the team's leading scorer with 83 points.
As hot as Datsyuk has been, Johan Franzen has been even better recently. He has a five-game goal scoring streak, and had a pair against the Predators on Sunday. He has four goals this season against Nashville.
Goaltender Dominik Hasek missed the win against Dallas due to a sore back, making it likely that Chris Osgood will get the start in this game. Osgood is 2-1-0 with a 2.69 goals-against average this season against Nashville, but was pulled on Feb. 12 after allowing three goals in less than nine minutes in Detroit's 4-2 loss.
The Predators have been outscored 17-9 in losing four of their last five, and No. 1 goaltender Chris Mason has been used less frequently lately. Since Feb. 14, he's 0-3-2 with a 4.65 GAA.
Dan Ellis is 3-3-0 in his last six starts with a 2.16 GAA, and he took the loss in his only start against Detroit this season, allowing two goals on 35 shots in a 2-1 defeat on Dec. 10.
Two of Nashville's top scorers are experiencing recent scoring droughts. Jason Arnott, who has 25 goals, has just one in his last seven games, while 24-goal scorer Alexander Radulov hasn't scored in his last nine.
Arnott has a goal and four assists, and Radulov two goals and two assists against Detroit this season.
Nashville has lost six straight at Joe Louis Arena.
|Mar 30 '08||NSH 0 at DET 1 - OT||J. Franzen|
|Mar 20 '08||DET 6 at NSH 3||J. Franzen|
|Mar 15 '08||NSH 3 at DET 1||R. Peverley|
|Mar 09 '08||NSH 3 at DET 4||J. Franzen|
|Feb 12 '08||DET 2 at NSH 4||J. Dumont|
|Dec 10 '07||DET 2 at NSH 1||V. Filppula|
|Nov 22 '07||DET 2 at NSH 3||R. Bonk|
|Nov 07 '07||NSH 2 at DET 3 - SO||P. Datsyuk|