PREDATORS (36-22-13) at CAPITALS (50-14-5)
TV: 7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, FS-TN, CSN-DC, NHL.TV
WASHINGTON -- The Nashville Predators visit the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Friday at Verizon Center in hot pursuit of the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Predators are three points behind the Chicago Blackhawks for third place in the Western Conference Central Division, but according to coach Peter Laviolette they wouldn't know.
"We haven't talked about our division in two months," Laviolette said. "We've just been focused on the games and the points. It literally has not come up, not one time."
Nashville has been one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the past month, posting an 11-1-5 record -- the best in the League since Feb. 12 with 27 points in 17 games. The Predators had a 14-game point streak spanned in a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on March 12.
Laviolette credits their performance over the past month to a number of things.
"There were so many games at the beginning of the year where we thought we played a good game and we didn't win; we didn't get the result we were looking for," Laviolette said. "[We're] playing good defense, good specialty teams, and goaltenders are playing really well right now. We've had some key contributions from our forwards."
The Capitals are the first team to clinch a spot in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs but don't expect to rest any players, even with 12 games left in the regular season. Capitals coach Barry Trotz doesn't want to see them mail it in, even with a double-digit first place lead in the Eastern Conference.
"I would rather see us play our four lines and play really hard than resting guys," Trotz said Thursday. "I think some guys can improve on their conditioning, because the playoffs are another animal. The first round is a level that is only reached on one level, and that is in that first round. I don't know if it gets to that level of intensity after that. Maybe in the [Cup] Final."
The Predators did not have a morning skate but backup Carter Hutton is expected to be in goal. Starting goaltender Pekka Rinne played Thursday in a 4-2 win against the New York Islanders.
Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby will start.
Here are the projected lineups:
Calle Jarnkrok - Ryan Johansen - James Neal
Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith
Miikka Salomaki - Mike Fisher - Viktor Arvidsson
Colin Wilson - Colton Sissons - Austin Watson
Roman Josi - Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis
Anthony Bitetto - Barret Jackman
Injured: Eric Nystrom (broken foot), Paul Gaustad (upper body), Gabriel Bourque (upper body),
Scratched: Petter Granberg
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Jay Beagle
Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Justin Williams
Daniel Winnik - Mike Richards - Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Dmitry Orlov
Nate Schmidt -Taylor Chorney
Injured: John Carlson (lower body)
Scratched: Stanislav Galiev, Michael Latta, Mike Weber
Status update: Carlson practiced Friday for this first time since having surgery. He said he is close to returning to the lineup.
Who's hot: Forsberg has five points in his past two games against the Capitals. Neal has five points in two games. … Williams has four points in four games.