PREDATORS (31-20-8) at BLUE JACKETS (29-23-6)
TV: FS-TN (HD), FS-O (HD)
Last 10: Nashville 4-4-2; Columbus 6-3-1.
Season Series: This is the fourth of six meetings this season between two Central-Division rivals in the thick of a cluttered Western-Conference playoff race. In their last meeting on Jan. 2, both teams opened 2011 with a 4-1 Preds home win in which Shea Weber had a goal and two assists. The teams split their previous two meetings, both played in Columbus, and will play again on Sunday.
Big Story: Normally the story coming into this game would be the narrow seven-point gap separating second-place Nashville from last-place St. Louis. Not this year, when the Western-Conference playoff picture seems to change with every passing game. Nashville currently holds the five-spot, but their hold on that position is tenuous at best.
The Predators are tied with Calgary with 70 points and have five other teams nipping at their heels with 68 points. That doesn’t account for Columbus, either, who come into the game only six points behind Nashville. With so much at stake in the West, divisional matchups like this one should prove pivotal down the stretch.
Predators: After going 2-1-1 in their recent four-game homestand, the Predators were able to put more space between themselves and the rest of the Conference pack. They'll have plenty of similar opportunities before the regular season ends, with 14 of their remaining 23 games taking place within the friendly confines of Bridgestone Arena.
Closing out their four-game stretch on Saturday, the Predators spent most of the evening playing two goals down to the Coyotes. Weber's goal with 50 seconds remaining in regulation made things interesting, but it was ultimately too little too late in a 3-2 Phoenix win.
"Our guys stayed with them the whole game. There was no quit in our game," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "I was disappointed in the way we gave up goals. All three could have been very preventable."
Blue Jackets: With a 6-1-1 record in their last eight games, Columbus is staking their claim to a playoff spot. They did so emphatically on Friday, when they came into Chicago and beat the Blackhawks 4-3 in a Central-Division matchup that had playoff implications for both clubs.
Against the Hawks, the Jackets entered the second period down 2-1 but exploded for three unanswered goals in a 5:54 span, eventually holding on for the win. R.J. Umberger assisted on two of the goals and Steve Mason made 37 saves to preserve the win.
"We've had success in the last three or four weeks because we haven't gotten intimidated by any team we're playing," said Columbus coach Scott Arniel.
Who's Hot: Weber leads the Predators in scoring and has 8 points in his last ten games while winger Martin Erat has 8 points in his last five games. … Jackets captain Rick Nash has 7 points in his current four-game point streak.
Injury Report: Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter sustained an upper-body injury against Phoenix and is doubtful against Columbus. Meanwhile, Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Cal O’Reilly (broken fibula), Francis Bouillon (upper body), and Marcel Goc (upper body) remain on IR. … Columbus defenseman Rostislav klesla remains out with a knee injury while Marc Methot missed the game in Chicago with an undisclosed ailment. Kristian Huselius is day-to-day with a lower-body injury while Derek Dorsett (head) and Derick Brassard (hand) are on IR.
Stat Pack: After leading the Jackets in the 2009-10 campaign with 5 points in six games against Nashville, Umberger already has 4 points in three games against the Predators this season.
Puck Drop: The Predators average the third-fewest penalty minutes in the League, but that shouldn't matter terribly against the Jackets, who have the League's third-worst power play. Of course, the Predators aren’t much better with the man advantage, ranking 26th in the League.