Considering the way the Columbus Blue Jackets have been haunted in Nashville throughout their existence, it's fitting that one final test in the Music City could be all that stands between them and the first playoff berth in franchise history.
Not that the Predators, who are in even more desperate need of the points, are about to let up now.
Columbus has lost 10 straight in Nashville going into Saturday night's visit, but if the Blue Jackets can end that streak it would all but punch their ticket to the postseason while dealing a major blow to the hopes of their Central Division rivals.
An almost relentless run of futility in Tennessee has helped keep Columbus out of the playoffs for its first seven seasons.
Even though the 2008-09 Blue Jackets (40-29-8) have already set club records for wins and points thanks to a second-half surge, they've still allowed 10 goals while losing both trips to the Sommet Center. They have two wins in their last 22 visits to Nashville, including an 0-9-1 record in their last 10.
If they could choose one game to win there, it would be Saturday's contest.
A regulation victory over the Predators would give Columbus, currently in sixth place in the Western Conference, a six-point lead on ninth-place Nashville and bring the team to the brink of clinching a postseason berth.
Adding fuel to the matchup is the Predators' dire situation, as they remain one point behind eighth-place St. Louis for the final playoff spot. Nashville has a lengthy injured list that includes Jason Arnott, Martin Erat and David Legwand, and the team has stumbled, losing back-to-back games in regulation after going 11-2-4 over the previous five weeks.
"We're going to have to win," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Columbus is sitting there waiting. We've got to play the game of our lives."
The Blue Jackets' 2-1 home win over the Predators on Tuesday night was another critical result, as rookie Steve Mason made 21 saves and left wing Raffi Torres netted the game-winner 4:05 into the third period.
"We approached this as the biggest game of the year," Columbus center R.J. Umberger said. "We set ourselves up the first two periods. The third period, we said, 'This is the biggest period right here. We've got to find a way to win this.' We outplayed them. And we can't let it slip."
Seeking a fifth straight postseason appearance, the Predators (38-32-8) followed up Tuesday's defeat with a 3-1 loss at Chicago on Friday night.
With 2.49 goals per game, Nashville is one of the league's lightest-scoring teams, and that problem has plagued the team this week. Rookie center Cal O'Reilly has its only two goals in the last two games, with the Predators generating a total of just 48 shots over that span.
They have averaged four goals in 13 home games against Columbus since the NHL's lockout, but Mason is 2-1-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average versus Nashville.
"We're going into their building for the next game," Mason said. "We have to be prepared. We can't sit tight with (Tuesday's win)."
The Predators have their own standout rookie in net in Pekka Rinne, who has dropped his last two starts overall but is 18-5-2 with a 1.94 GAA at home. Rinne stopped 29 shots Friday, but it wasn't enough.
"This puts us in a position where we need to win (Saturday) night," Rinne said. "We have no choice."
|G. De Vries||68||1||4||5||-13||63||0||0|