The Nashville Predators only entered the league two seasons before the Columbus Blue Jackets. The difference between the teams seems far greater now.
Nashville looks to extend its overall points lead and complete a season sweep of the Blue Jackets on Saturday night when the teams meet at Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Nashville (45-18-6) entered the NHL in 1998-99 with Columbus (27-34-7) following in 2000-01. Both struggled in their first few seasons, but the Predators have developed into a Stanley Cup contender.
The Predators not only will reach the playoffs for the third straight season, they could finish with the league's best record. They have a one-point lead over Central Division rival Detroit in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, and need only 11 points in their final 13 games to surpass last season's franchise record of 106.
Columbus, meanwhile, has never reached the playoffs in its six seasons, finishing with a franchise-best 74 points in 2005-06.
The difference between the teams has been evident in this season's series. Nashville won the first six meetings by a combined 22-8 score before a 4-3 shootout victory on Feb. 25.
Tomas Vokoun is 4-0-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average in four starts against Columbus this season, and has won eight of his last nine starts versus the Blue Jackets. Left wing Paul Kariya has four goals and four assists in the season series.
Despite missing several key players, the Predators extended their point streak to nine with a 6-3 victory Wednesday over visiting Calgary. Jason Arnott had two goals and an assist and defenseman Shea Weber added a pair of power-play goals as Nashville improved to 6-0-3 in its last nine games.
"Obviously, Arnie stepped up and had a couple of big goals," Predators coach Barry Trotz said after Arnott recorded his 300th career goal. "He could've had five goals today. He got to tee it up a few times."
Missing from Nashville's lineup Wednesday were forwards Peter Forsberg (upper body), Steve Sullivan (back spasms), Scott Nichol (broken thumb) and defenseman Marek Zidlicky (upper body).
Forsberg, who has missed the last three games, practiced Friday but isn't expected to play this game. He hopes to return either Tuesday or Wednesday, when Nashville faces Detroit in a home-and-home set.
Wednesday's win was the second in regulation in the last six games for the Predators, who have gone to a shootout four times during that span.
Predators All-Star defenseman Kimmo Timonen has one goal and nine assists during an eight-game point streak.
The Blue Jackets had a three-game win streak snapped Friday with a 3-0 home loss to Dallas.
"You have to find a way to outwork the goalie," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's a challenge you have to meet."
Fredrik Norrena made 28 saves in his second straight start Friday. He is 0-3-0 with a 3.33 GAA this season against Nashville.
- Associated Press