Closing out the regular season in strong fashion could put the Nashville Predators back in the playoffs.
|Dan Ellis blanked Columbus twice in a home-and-home, then kept Detroit scoreless through regulation on Sunday. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)
Currently out of the postseason mix, the Predators will try to boost their playoff hopes on Tuesday night when they visit the St. Louis Blues in the start of a home-and-home series.
Nashville (39-31-9) is ninth in the Western Conference with three games remaining. The Predators have 87 points - one behind Vancouver for the final playoff berth, but only one in front of 10th-place Edmonton. The Canucks and the Oilers are scheduled to play later on Tuesday.
Following this game, Nashville returns home to face St. Louis on Thursday before finishing up the regular season at Chicago on Friday. Though the Predators have been in the playoffs each of the last three seasons, they've failed to advance past the first round and an eighth-place finish would likely set up a quarterfinal series against league-leading Detroit.
If the Preds reach the playoffs though, rookie goaltender Dan Ellis will be a big reason why. After twice blanking Columbus in a home-and-home series last week, he shut out the Red Wings through regulation on Sunday before allowing Johan Franzen's goal 3:21 into overtime in a 1-0 loss.
Ellis, who appears to have supplanted Chris Mason as the starter, also saw his franchise-record shutout streak end at 233 minutes, 39 seconds.
"It was good," said Ellis, 22-10-3 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a franchise-best six shutouts in 2007-08. "Right now, we're at a point where you put all of your personal stuff aside."
Ellis has faced the Blues twice this season, including one start, and has stopped 32 of 33 shots for a 0.67 GAA.
Mason is 0-4-2 with a 4.17 GAA in nine games - five starts - since beating Detroit on Feb. 12, but has won his last two starts against the Blues. He's 6-3-0 with a 2.21 GAA and two shutouts over 10 career starts in St. Louis.
The Preds scored only four goals while losing the first three games (0-2-1) of the season series to St. Louis, but have 13 in three straight wins since then behind journeyman center Scott Nichol, who's scored four of his career-best 10 goals in those contests.
Having been eliminated from the playoffs for the third straight season, the Blues (31-35-12) will try to avoid their fifth loss in six games. St. Louis dropped to 1-3-1 in its last five with a 4-3 loss to Chicago on Saturday.
Keith Tkachuk, Brad Boyes and Paul Kariya scored in the third period after the Blackhawks built a 4-0 lead.
"Some good players started to make some good players and we got some traffic to the net," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "We took advantage of our opportunities."
Still, St. Louis is 3-13-3 in its last 19 games heading into the final week of the regular season.
Boyes, who also had two assists Saturday, has two straight three-point games. St. Louis is 9-4-3 when he notches at least two points.
The right wing scored six of his team-high 41 goals in his first five games against Nashville this season, but failed to record a point in a 2-1 overtime loss on Feb. 16.