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Predators can clinch No. 4 seed by beating Blues

by Brian Hunter
PREDATORS (44-26-11) at BLUES (37-33-11)


Last 10:
Nashville 8-1-1; St. Louis 5-3-2

Season series:
Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Central Division rivals, who haven't played since the calendar turned to 2011. The Blues have won three of the first five, with David Backes scoring both goals and Jaroslav Halak stopping all 32 shots in their 2-0 win in the most recent matchup on Dec. 26.

Big story:
The Predators were one of three Western Conference teams to clinch playoff berths on Friday night, joining the Coyotes and Ducks. Where any of them will finish come the end of the regular season Sunday night remains anyone's guess. Nashville does control its own destiny, however, when it comes to finishing fourth and gaining home ice in the first round. A victory on Saturday and it won't matter what anyone else does.

Team Scope:

Predators: For a team that seems to get constantly overlooked with behemoths like Vancouver, San Jose and Detroit consistently commanding the headlines out west, Nashville has qualified for the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons. What the Predators have yet to do is win a series, however, and getting to start at Bridgestone Arena in Game 1 next week could be a huge edge. Their 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets, highlighted by a pair of goals and an assist from Patric Hornqvist, allowed them to finish the regular season with a 24-9-8 record on home ice.

"There's a lot on the table," said goalie Pekka Rinne, who turned in another outstanding effort with 44 saves. "We can still finish fourth. I think we need a little bit of help from other teams, but it's in our hands and that would be amazing to start at home."

Rinne's comments were made before Los Angeles lost in regulation to Anaheim on Friday, which was just the help Nashville needed in order to control its own destiny.

Blues: One season after leading Montreal all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, there won't be further spring heroics performed by Halak, who had an up-and-down first season in St. Louis. He had the night off Wednesday when the Blues battled the Blackhawks into overtime before dropping a 4-3 decision to a desperate team still in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot. TJ Oshie scored a goal and set up another while Ty Conklin made 35 saves.

"We wanted to come in here and play a solid game," Conklin said. "We know what their situation is. I don't think we're trying to knock them out more than anyone else would."

Who's hot: Sergei Kostitsyn has 7 goals and 8 assists during an 11-game points streak for the Predators. Mike Fisher has 4 goals and 4 assists during a six-game points streak. Matt Halischuk has 2 goals and 4 assists during a five-game points streak. Hornqvist (2-5-7), Jordin Tootoo (3-2-5) and Martin Erat (2-2-4) have three-game points streaks going. … Andy McDonald has 2 goals and 3 assists during a three-game points streak for the Blues. Backes has scored goals in two straight games, four of five and five of seven. Kevin Shattenkirk has 2 goals and 8 assists in his last nine games.

Injury report:
Nashville got forward Steve Sullivan back Friday after he missed 19 games following sports hernia surgery. Forward Cal O'Reilly, who has been out since early January with a broken leg, could return Saturday. Martin Erat missed Friday's game with an upper-body injury.

Stat pack: Sullivan is the only Predator with 2 goals in the season series, while Backes and Matt D'Agostini each have 3 goals to lead the Blues. Halak has played every minute of the five games in net, posting a 1.36 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.

Puck drop:
With home ice riding on a victory, there's no doubt Rinne will be back in goal for Nashville. He's second in the NHL with a .930 save percentage and third with a 2.12 GAA, and coach Barry Trotz doesn't think he can overstate Rinne's value.

"To me, he's our MVP without a doubt," Trotz said. "I would say he's probably the best goaltender in the National Hockey League. You have to talk about who's the most valuable player to his team, which is what the Hart Trophy's about. Pekka's got to be in the top three for me."

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