THRASHERS (33-33-12) at PREDATORS (42-26-11)
TV: SPSO (HD)
Atlanta 5-5-0; Nashville 7-2-1
This is the second and final meeting of the season between these teams. Zach Bogosian decided the Dec. 6 meeting in Atlanta by scoring 2:11 into overtime to give the Thrashers a 3-2 victory. Goals by Jim Slater and Andrew Ladd rallied them from a 2-0 deficit after Colin Wilson
and Steve Sullivan scored in the first period for the Predators.
Any chance of making a late push to win the Central Division ended for Nashville after Detroit rallied to win in overtime Saturday at Bridgestone Arena and followed that up by beating Minnesota on Sunday. But the Predators can clinch a playoff berth if they win and the Stars lose their game Tuesday against the Blue Jackets, and they could still finish as high as fourth in the Western Conference and have home ice for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While the playoffs are officially out of reach for Atlanta, finishing with a points percentage better than .500 remains a realistic and attainable goal. The Thrashers will also have a major say in the fortunes of other playoff contenders, as they face the Rangers on Thursday, the Hurricanes on Friday and the Penguins to close the season on Sunday. This is the fourth stop on a five-game road trip that has seen Atlanta play competitive hockey throughout, falling 3-2 in Boston on Saturday.
"I felt like we had a good start of the season. Other teams made up the ground," forward Bryan Little said, noting that the Thrashers went 4-17 over most of January and February. "We've been playing better here of late, but you can't take that much time off like we did."
Having won seven of its last eight entering the weekend, Nashville had turned the heat up a notch on struggling Detroit and raised it up another notch by jumping out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Ryan Suter
, Martin Erat
and Sergei Kostitsyn
in a span of 3:37 bridging the first and second periods. But the Red Wings got two quick goals right after Kostitsyn scored, Justin Abdelkader picked up his second of the game early in the third and Danny Cleary completed the comeback 2:58 into overtime to deal the Predators a disheartening 4-3 defeat.
"That was definitely a frustrating one to lose that way," forward Mike Fisher
said. "The bright side is we got a point, and they're all important right now."
Nik Antropov has 2 goals and 2 assists during a four-game points streak for the Thrashers. Chris Mason has won three of his last four starts, posting a .937 save percentage. … Kostitsyn has 4 goals and 7 assists during a nine-game points streak for the Predators. Fisher has 3 goals and 3 assists during a four-game points streak. Erat has goals in consecutive games.
Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. … Nashville had three players back at practice on Monday, as forwards Jordin Tootoo
(neck/back), Sullivan (groin) and Cal O'Reilly
(broken fibula) all skated. O'Reilly last played Jan. 2, while Sullivan hasn't been in the lineup since Feb. 24. They have yet to be activated from injured reserve.
Dustin Byfuglien scored his career-high 20th goal of the season against the Bruins, snapping an 0-for-16 drought for the Thrashers' power play. He leads all NHL defensemen in goals. … Kostitsyn became the Predators' first 20-goal scorer this season. The team has six other players with at least 16 goals, and three additional players with 10 goals.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz is on the verge of guiding the Predators to their sixth playoff berth in seven seasons, but he doesn't want his players content on just getting there.
"The challenge for us is to finish as high as we can here," he said. "We can still get 101 points. That could put us in the four or five seed pretty easily. Sometimes the tendency is to look at where Calgary or Dallas is or Chicago, but let's forget about that and start looking at the teams ahead of us; those teams have to play against each other (later this week). We have to make sure we're on top of our game and collect as many points as we can; that could mean home ice advantage in the first round."