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At the Rink: Predators at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- Center Ryan Johansen, who was acquired Wednesday from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones, will make his Nashville Predators debut against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Friday (9 p.m. ET; ALT, FS-TN).

Johansen will skate on a line with forwards Colin Wilson and James Neal.

"He needs to come in and be part of our group," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said after an optional morning skate. "He's going to play some minutes just like everyone else on our team. We need our team to be great tonight. He's now part of our team, he's part of our forward group, he's part of the power play. But everybody's got to do their job. As a team, we all need to make sure we’re ready to play tonight. It's a big game."

The Predators (19-14-7) have a two-point lead over the Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. They have played one fewer game than the Avalanche (20-18-3), but Colorado has a three-game lead in regulation and overtime wins (20-17), the first tiebreaker.

"Everybody knows exactly what the standings say," Laviolette said. "We know we've got to start playing some good hockey in the second half here."

This is the first game of a four-game road trip for the Predators, who have gone 1-2-1 in their past four games and 4-5-2 in the past 11.

The Avalanche won the first game between the teams 3-2 in Nashville on Dec. 12 when goalie Semyon Varlamov had 34 saves.

Colorado went 2-1-1 in the first four games of their five-game homestand and are coming off back-to-back wins against the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues. They've gone 8-2-2 in the past 12 games and 11-4-2 in the past 17.

"It's kind of a playoff game (while) knowing we have 40 games after," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "It's a big game for us and certainly it will be important to play a strong game tonight, but there's going to be a lot of work after this game. I like our energy, I like our focus, I like the mindset that we have right now. We've been playing some good hockey and we just want to continue that way."

Roy said the Predators are better up front with Johansen than they were before the trade, but that his presence won't change how the Avalanche approach the game.

"He's a very good player, like Jones is a very good player," Roy said. "I think on the power play he's going to replace Jones. They're both very good shooters, they're both capable of making great plays.

"I guess there was a need for both teams. Nashville wanted a center and Columbus wanted a defenseman. I guess it's always tough to let good players go, but it is what it is. They both believe they are a better team today."

Here are the projected lineups:


Colin Wilson - Ryan Johansen - James Neal

Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Calle Jarnkrok

Miikka Salomaki - Mike Fisher - Craig Smith

Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Austin Watson

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis

Anthony Bitetto - Barret Jackman

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Viktor Arvidsson, Petter Granberg, Cody Hodgson

Injured: Gabriel Bourque (upper body)


Alex Tanguay - Nathan MacKinnon - Matt Duchene

Andreas Martinsen - Mikhail Grigorenko - Jarome Iginla

Gabriel Landeskog - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau

Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin - Andrew Bodnarchuk

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Zach Redmond - Nate Guenin

Semyon Varlamov

Calvin Pickard

Injured: Reto Berra (ankle), Erik Johnson (lower body), Ben Street (chest), Brad Stuart (back), Jesse Winchester (head)

Scratched: Chris Wagner

Status report: Trading Jones has given Bitetto the opportunity to rejoin the Predators lineup for the first time since Oct. 20 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. "When the time comes, and it has come, I'll be ready," Bitetto said. "It's mixed emotions, he leaves and it opens up a spot for me. I just have to make the best of the moment."

Who's hot: Ekholm has two goals and two assists in the past four games. … Barrie has two goals and three assists in a two-game scoring streak. ... Duchene has two goals and one assist in a two-game streak.

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