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Preds go for five in a row against Wild

by David Kalan
PREDATORS (30-16-4) at WILD (24-18-7)

: FS-TN, FS-N (HD), FS-WI (HD)

Last 10: Nashville 9-1-0; Minnesota 3-6-1.

Season series: The season series is tied 1-1 after Nashville topped Minnesota 2-1 in a shootout at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 28, 2011. Minnesota won the first meeting, 3-2, on Nov. 23 in St. Paul.

Big Story: As Minnesota and Nashville open up the second halves of their seasons, both are in battles in the standings but in different places. The Predators are making a run at the top spot in the West, while the Wild are fighting just to stay in playoff position.

Team Scope:

Predators: In the mass of hockey power that is the NHL's Central Division, it is easy to get distracted by Detroit, which has been astonishingly good at its home arena and leads the West with 67 points, but teams ought to not be sleeping on Nashville. The Predators have been just as good lately -- if not better -- dominating a full quarter of their schedule with 18 wins in their last 23 games. That includes an impressive 3-1 win over the Blackhawks, one of the three teams Nashville is battling for the division crown, in Chicago in its last outing before the All-Star Game last week.

As a result, the Predators may be just third in their own division, but they are currently seeded fifth in the West and sit just three points off the pace for the top seed in the Conference. As the schedule hits the home stretch, few teams are playing better and Nashville seems set to be a real contender in the West.

Wild: Minnesota was one of the season's early surprises, but as the campaign has worn on the Wild have dropped down the standings. The team now sits in the eighth spot in the West, nine points back of division-leading Vancouver and just one point up on ninth place Colorado. The Wild are helped by the fact that they have two games in hand on the Avalanche, but Dallas, just three points back, has a game in hand on Minnesota.

Despite the tumble in the standings -- and just three wins in their last 10 games -- the Wild have actually won two in a row and those victories were crucial, coming against both the Stars and Avalanche. Minnesota will open a three-game road trip Thursday night, and the first two stops are back in Colorado and Dallas. Given the teams' proximity in the standings, those two games, along with the two Minnesota just won, could prove crucial come April.

Who's Hot: Mike Fisher's wife may be the musician of the family, but he's been making plenty of music on the ice in Nashville lately, potting four goals and adding an assist in his last four games. ... Dany Heatley ended a recent three-game scoring drought with two goals and two assists in his last two games.

Injury Report: Minnesota is still waiting for the return of Mikko Koivu, who will be out until at least mid-February with a shoulder injury, but Koivu did work out before practice Monday. More good news came when Guillaume Latendresse skated with the team during practice during Monday despite being out since Dec. 14 with post-concussion symptoms. Nashville appears to be healthy coming out of the All-Star Break.
Stat Pack: It isn't unusual for teams to ride a hot goaltender, but it's unusual to see a goalie who is quite as hot as Nashville's Pekka Rinne has been. Rinne, who has the second most wins in the League, has won his last nine starts while posting a stunning 1.34 goals-against average.

Puck Drop: Both Nashville and Minnesota have more than 30 games to go before the season is over, but after a brief break for the NHL's stars in Ottawa, it's back to business for both the Predators and Wild. The stakes appear to be quite different for both teams at the moment, but the fight of one team is no less important than anothers. Expect Nashville and Minnesota to play like it when they open the second half Tuesday.
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