BLUE JACKETS (29-31-11) at PREDATORS (40-26-5)
Columbus 4-4-2; Nashville 7-3-0
This is the final meeting of the regular season between these Central Division rivals. Nashville has won four of five, although three of those victories came in either overtime or a shootout. Columbus also took the most recent matchup, 3-2 on Jan. 26. Steve Sullivan leads all scorers with four goals, including a hat trick in the Predators' 5-3 win on Dec. 14. Pekka Rinne
and Dan Ellis have each recorded a pair of victories. R.J. Umberger
paces the Blue Jackets with three goals.
Nashville had won five in a row and posted a 22-2-2 record against Columbus since the start of the 2006-07 season until the Blue Jackets finally broke through in the most recent meeting. They have, however, picked up five of a possible 10 points against the Predators this season (1-1-3), so this game figures to be competitive despite the 16-point differential in the standings.
While it appears to be too little, too late as far as the postseason is concerned, Columbus has increased its chances of reaching the .500 mark in terms of regulation wins and losses by taking four of its last five. The Blue Jackets got captain Rick Nash
back Friday night and he scored the go-ahead goal in the third period of a 4-2 win over the Wild. Nash also had the empty-netter for his 30th goal of the season.
"We're making the right moves. Obviously, it's a bit late," Nash said. "Momentum from the end of this year can really carry on to next year."
A little pressure from Detroit and Calgary directly behind in the standings seems to have brought out the best in Nashville, which has responded by winning four in a row and five of six. As a result, the Predators have been able to keep the seventh seed safely to themselves. Rinne notched his fifth shutout of the season and Patric Hornqvist
scored his team-leading 27th goal of the season in a 5-0 win over the Wild on Thursday.
"We played well with the lead, and we played with confidence at the end of the game," said captain Jason Arnott, who also scored. "Everybody contributed tonight and we came out with a big two points."
Who's hot: Kristian Huselius
has scored goals in three straight games in which he has played for the Blue Jackets. He also has five assists during that span and a plus-6 rating.
Rinne has stopped 108 of 113 shots for a .956 save percentage and recorded a pair of shutouts in winning his last four starts for the Predators. Arnott has a goal and four assists during a four-game points streak. Martin Erat
has a goal and three assists during a three-game points streak. Hornqvist has two goals and two assists during a three-game points streak, as well as four goals in five games. Rookie Colin Wilson
has four goals and three assists in his last seven games.
Columbus is playing without forward Derek MacKenzie
(sprained MCL) and defensemen Jan Hejda (sprained MCL) and Rostislav Klesla (groin). … Nashville is missing defenseman Denis Grebeshkov (lower body).
Blue Jackets defenseman Kris Russell
, who had four goals in his first 133 games, has seven in 61 games this season after lighting the lamp against the Wild. … The Predators won 42 of 67 faceoffs in their last game, a 62.7 percent success rate.
"I think this team is really playing as well as we've played all year long," Rinne told the Tennessean. "It's good timing. Everybody realizes how big these games are."