PREDATORS (29-18-3) at AVALANCHE (28-15-6)
Nashville 6-4-0; Colorado 7-3-0
Third of four meetings this season. The Predators have taken the first two. They rallied for a 3-2 victory in Nashville on Oct. 8 as Patric Hornqvist
scored a pair of third-period goals 2:17 apart, and won 4-3 in Colorado on Nov. 25 when David Legwand
scored 3:07 into overtime.
The Western Conference is chock full of success stories this season -- if the Stanley Cup Playoffs began Friday, half of its participants would be teams that failed to qualify a season ago. That includes both the Avalanche and Predators, who have 62 and 61 points, respectively. While there's a lot of season left, it's entirely in the realm of the possibilities that this could be a first-round matchup.
The season got off to a rough start for Nashville, with a six-game losing streak in mid-October. Since then, the Predators have dropped as many as three in a row just once, in late December. They will be trying to avoid a three-game losing streak Friday, and playing for the second time in 24 hours. Starting a three-game road trip in Phoenix on Thursday, the Predators carried a 2-1 lead into the third period only to have Scottie Upshall record a natural hat trick in a 4-2 loss.
"Today was very important and we fell short," defenseman Ryan Suter
said. "We've lost two in a row and we have to get back to winning."
The condensed NHL schedule this season due to the Olympics has led to plenty of back-to-back and three-in-four game situations, but Colorado has played only three times in the last 11 days. The Avalanche are on a four-game winning streak that started with a shootout win in Buffalo and also includes victories over Calgary, New Jersey and Edmonton. In spite of that, Vancouver tied them for first in the Northwest Division on Thursday with its third straight win. The Canucks have played one more game.
"It's been a grind all year with teams playing well," said goalie Craig Anderson, who is coming off his career-high fourth shutout of the season. "You have to win your games and worry about what you can control."
In his first full NHL season, Hornqvist reached the 20-goal mark on Thursday with his third in four games.
"It's a great mark for any young player to get that," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He deserves any praise he gets because he goes to the hard areas and does everything he can."
Avalanche defensemen have been getting the job done of late, as Kyle Cumiskey
recorded his first career two-goal game in Monday's 6-0 rout of Edmonton and John-Michael Liles tied a career-high with three points, notching a goal and two assists. Liles has a three-game points streak. Anderson has allowed just six goals in winning his last four starts.
Nashville forward J.P. Dumont missed Thursday's game due to flu-like symptoms, while forward Jordin Tootoo
returned to the lineup after missing five weeks with a broken foot.
Colorado captain Adam Foote (ankle), forward Marek Svatos (chest) and defenseman Ruslan Salei (back) all skated on Thursday. Foote, who last played Jan. 8, is day-to-day, as is Svatos, who missed Monday's game. Salei has played in only one game this season. Forward Milan Hejduk
is out until early February after arthroscopic knee surgery and forward David Jones
is likely to miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
The Avalanche have played just 21 games this season at home, the fewest in the League. They have a 13-6-2 mark at the Pepsi Center, where they will play 20 of their final 33 games. The Predators are tied for second in the West with 15 road wins.
While Colorado and Nashville reside in different divisions and can hardly be considered bitter rivals, their close proximity in the West standings makes the two points up for grabs Friday extremely valuable.
"More so than any time I can really remember," Liles said. "It's extremely close and it's going to be a battle.
"You get four wins in a row and it doesn't seem like you've gained any ground; it seems like you've almost lost ground sometimes. It's just something that we'll continue to battle."