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Canucks, Predators focused on moving up

by David Kalan /

PREDATORS (22-22-7) at CANUCKS (26-16-9)


Last 10: Nashville 4-4-2; Vancouver 3-5-2

Season series: The Vancouver Canucks won their only previous game this season against the Nashville Predators, 3-1 on Dec. 3 at Bridgestone Arena. They'll meet again on March 19 in Vancouver.

Big story: As the Predators attempt to climb the standings in the Western Conference, their opponent Thursday is another team fighting for positioning and a chance at the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Canucks. In order to pull into one of the Western Conference's two wild-card spots the Predators will have to make up an eight-point deficit and jump over three teams. One of those teams is Vancouver, which means Nashville has a valuable opportunity to take two points off a direct competitor.

Team Scope:

Predators: If the Predators are looking to make a late playoff push, they're off to a good start. Nashville has won three of its past four games while averaging 3.75 goals per game, a marked change of pace for a team that has averaged more than a goal less than that over the course of the season.

Despite the improved play, however, Nashville is still sixth in the Central Division and a full eight points behind the Minnesota Wild, who currently occupy the West's final wild card spot. The Predators' visit to Vancouver will be the first stop on a four-game Western Canadian road trip.

As the Predators start the trip they'll have reinforcements; Nashville acquired defenseman Michael Del Zotto from the New York Rangers on Wednesday in exchange for defenseman Kevin Klein.

"Michael gives us another young, gifted left-handed shooting defenseman with significant offensive upside," Nashville general manager David Poile said. "We look forward to his presence on our already talented young blue line, further balancing our defensive corps."

Canucks: Vancouver is fourth in the Pacific, three points behind the Los Angeles Kings, but considering the Canucks' start to the year the gap could be much larger. After losing their final game of 2013 the Canucks opened 2014 with one win in their next eight games.

Since then, Vancouver has recovered with two straight wins, but as the team opens a four-game homestand on Thursday, obstacles still loom. Forward Henrik Sedin will be absent after missing Vancouver's 2-1 win on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers. Sedin, who suffered a rib injury against the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 16, had the second-longest active ironman streak in the League at 679 games.

The game against Nashville will also be the Canucks' second without coach John Torotorella, who is serving a 15-day suspension for his actions during and after a first-period line brawl in Vancouver's 3-2 shootout win against the Calgary Flames on Jan. 18. Much was made following that game of the two-second debut of Kellan Lain, who was ejected following the game-starting altercation, but Lain had a far larger impact in his second NHL game, scoring the first goal in Vancouver's win against Edmonton on Tuesday.

"I don't know if you can picture a more memorable first two games in the NHL than that," goalie Roberto Luongo said of Lain. "But it was a huge goal for us to set the tone for us in the first period."

After facing Nashville on Thursday the Canucks wrap up their homestand against Phoenix, Edmonton and the Chicago Blackhawks before starting a five-game road trip.

Who's hot: Predators defenseman Roman Josi has two goals and four assists in the past four games. ... Canucks forward Ryan Kesler has a goal and two assists in the past two games.

Injury report: Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (hip) remains on injured reserve. ... Sedin (ribs) and forward Mike Santorelli (arm) are out for the Canucks, but defenseman Ryan Stanton (ankle) returns after missing the past 15 games. Forward Jordan Schroeder (ankle) is expected to return after a brief conditioning stint in the American Hockey League. Defensemen Andrew Alberts (concussion) remains on IR.

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