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Predators stuck in unfamiliar territory as spoiler

by John Manasso /

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators remain alive mathematically for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but in reality, they know that for 2012-13, the race has all but ended for them.

Thursday, when the team announced three key forwards needed season-ending surgery, it was a tacit nod to the inevitable. With one win in their past eight games and the injuries mounting, the Predators entered Friday in unfamiliar territory: 13th in the Western Conference, six points behind the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings, with seven games remaining.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz was asked if he might reconsider the team's chances if it were to defeat the Dallas Stars on Friday at Bridgestone Arena then win in regulation against Detroit here Sunday.

"No, I think realistically there's a very, very slight chance," he said. "Teams [in front of the Predators] are playing each other so everyone's getting points. To be realistic, [making the playoffs] is probably not the case. Even though if you rattle all your wins off, the other teams are playing each other so points are being given. We may be able to catch a team like the Wings because we're playing them twice, but we may lose ground on another team we're trying to catch."

Trotz did qualify his comments to a minor degree, saying "until the body's cold you keep kicking and fighting."

"That's the way we have to approach it," he said. "We can have an effect on the race. We can have an effect on Dallas, on Detroit, on Vancouver (Nashville's opponent Monday), even."

Trotz even used the dreaded term "spoiler" -- a role Nashville rarely has played for years, having earned a playoff berth in seven of the past eight seasons. According to the Predators media guide, three other NHL teams have accomplished that feat during the same time span -- the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks -- while the Detroit Red Wings have qualified all eight seasons. The former two teams also are in danger of not qualifying this season, underscoring how difficult a task that is even for perennial powers. Furthermore, Detroit, with a streak of 21 consecutive postseason appearances, is on the brink of failing to qualify.

Injuries have proved a major factor in the Predators' struggles this season. Center Paul Gaustad and forward Colin Wilson will miss the remainder of the season due to shoulder surgery. They have played a combined 48 games this season. Forward Gabriel Bourque, who is tied for the team lead in goals with 11, needs knee surgery.

Trotz was asked if the decision for three players at once to have season-ending surgery would have any psychological effect on the team.

"I think just the realization," he said. "I think most of the guys knew they were probably, if they were coming back, it would be right at the very end. I don't think it has any effect. I think what the guys in the room have to look at now, especially guys who have been sort of on the bubble in their careers or who are trying to make it now in their careers, this is an opportunity to showcase what they have.

"They're playing up above maybe where they would be with a full roster. This is an opportunity to say, 'Hey, I can play at the next level,' or that line up or whatever, or two lines up."

Forward Matt Halischuk, who has been a part of the team's playoff success in each of the past two seasons, including scoring a double-overtime winner against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals, said players must force themselves not to dwell on the circumstances.

"It's always in the back of my mind," he said. "You have to try to push it out of your mind and focus on game to game. Thinking about that (missing the playoffs) is going to suck the morale right out of the guys. We prepare for each game individually and play hard.

"That's all we can do."

In goal for the Predators Friday will be Chris Mason, who has not played more than 51 minutes in a game since Feb. 9 and who has started three games this season. Two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne will get some rest; he leads the League with 39 games.

Mason said the way the Predators will approach the rest of the season is simple.

"I mean, to win," he said. "You try to win every night and I think that doesn't change. Although the chances of getting in are very slim and tough, at the same time you never do know. And as competitors, I think we're all proud and we do want to win no matter what the situation. You can kind of play that spoiler role and beat out some teams and make some things a little more difficult.

"There's a lot of guys in here that have a lot to prove and we have young guys getting opportunities. Older guys like myself getting to play a game and trying to play well. No matter what our situation, we still have a lot to prove."

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