PREDATORS (33-23-9) at FLAMES (34-24-9)
TV – SNET-Wst (HD)
Last 10 -- Nashville 4-4-2; Calgary 6-3-1.
Season series – These teams have met three previous times this season, all Calgary victories. In their last meeting, Cory Sarich tied the game in the third period and Rene Bourque scored the shootout’s only goal, giving the Flames a 3-2 win in Music City.
Big story – It almost seems redundant to point out one more time, but every Western-Conference matchup really does hold major playoff implications. In a Conference where fourth and 11th place are separated by a small handful of points, the two points separating Nashville and Calgary make for a world of difference. Especially considering the Predators possess two games in hand over the Flames.
Predators – In the midst of a four-game road swing that will see them visit all three Western-Canadian franchises and division-leading San Jose, the Predators started the trip with a disappointing loss to last-place Edmonton. But they rebounded nicely on Thursday with a win over League-leading Vancouver. Against the Canucks, Nashville got a third-period goal from Tennessee native Blake Geoffrion and 29 saves from Pekka Rinne. That production was all the Preds would need in a 3-0 win that saw Rinne earn his fifth shutout of the season.
"It's a tough team, tough building to play in," Rinne said. "We did an outstanding job. I couldn't be happier right now."
Flames – After dropping a wild back-and-forth game against Chicago on Wednesday, the Flames topped Columbus 4-3 on Friday. Curtis Glencross led the charge in the win with a goal and two assists, but the true star of the night was goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
With stops on separate penalty shots by Matt Calvert and Antoine Vermette, Kiprusoff became the first keeper in 25 years to stop two penalty shots in a game. The two stops punctuated a resounding 37-save performance for Kiprusoff, who faced 16 shots just in the third period.
"He gives us a chance to win every night," forward Olli Jokinen said of his goaltender. "You can see how focused he is every day. He's the biggest reason we've been winning games."
Who's hot – Geoffrion, the first fourth-generation NHLer in League history, has goals in back-to-back games while teammate David Legwand has 4 points in his last four games. … For the Flames, Bourque has 5 points on his current three-game point streak. Not to be outdone, Jarome Iginla has 7 points in his own three-game streak.
Injury report – For the Predators, Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Cal O'Reilly (broken leg), Francis Bouillon (upper body), Marcel Goc (shoulder), and Steve Sullivan (groin) are all on IR. … Flames forwards Brendan Morrison (knee) and Mikael Backlund (flu) missed the game against Columbus while Daymond Langkow (neck), Raitis Ivanans (concussion), and Adam Pardy (shoulder) remain on IR.
Stat pack – Kiprusoff has been virtually unbeatable against Nashville, boasting a 0.96 goals-against average and.965 save percentage in three games against the Preds this season. It's a slight improvement over his 1.52 GAA and .933 save percentage in four games against Nashville last season. With 19 straight starts coming into Sunday’s game, he is expected to start.
Puck drop – Tennessean Geoffrion isn't the only Predators rookie with an unconventional hockey background. Defenseman Jonathan Blum, who played his first NHL game on Feb. 22, was born and raised in Long Beach, Calif., before playing junior hockey in Vancouver. While Geoffrion is the first native Tennessean in the NHL, Blum is the first California born-and-raised player to be selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.