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Win streak pushes Preds into playoff picture

by Jay Levin
What a difference five games can make.

On Feb. 24 the Predators opened a five-game homestand in 11th place in the Western Conference. Coming off of back-to-back overtime games against the St. Louis Blues -- the team lost the first, then won the second on a Shea Webber goal -- the Preds were on the fringe of the playoff picture.

Once the game began, things didn't look much better for Nashville as the visiting Chicago Blackhawks scored three times in the second period to take a 3-1 lead.

And then things changed.

David Legwand and J.P. Dumont scored 3:01 apart early in the third period to tie the game, Joel Ward gave the Predators their first lead with 5:03 remaining in regulation, and Shea Weber added a power-play goal minutes later to cap a 5-3 win.

Two nights later the Predators rolled through the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-1, out-shooting the Coyotes 47-26 in the process, for their third straight win.

If no one was paying attention yet, they certainly were after Feb. 28. With the defending Stanley Cup champions in town, Nashville scored four times in the first 10 minutes of the game to chase Detroit netminder Ty Conklin, and then greeted Chris Osgood with a goal less than a minute into his night for a five-goal first-period outburst. The Preds tacked on a second period power-play goal and two third-period scores to post an eye-opening 8-0 win.

Nashville opened this week on the outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but a 6-5 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night pushed the Predators into the conference's top eight for the first time since December. On Thursday night Pekka Rinne won a Calder Trophy showdown with Steve Mason and the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-2, to close one of the most successful homestands in team history.

The six-game win streak is the Preds' longest of the season, and the longest current stretch in the League.

"I would say it is as good a homestand as we've had, because it was opponents that we're in a battle with to try to pass or try catch," said Predators coach Barry Trotz. "So in a lot of ways, yeah, it was (as impressive a homestand as we've had). There was every type of win you could imagine from great comebacks to big wins. When we went through the streak where we weren't scoring a lot, we needed our goalie to be the first star on a lot of nights. But now that we're scoring a lot more, it's not as imperative. We've been able to put up some offense on this homestand and that gives Pekka some breathing room."

"Everybody is rallying for a playoff spot and everybody is playing playoff hockey, but right now we have to make sure we keep going," said Dumont, the team's leading scorer. "We can't get too high, but at the same time we have to stay positive with all the good things we're doing."

With the playoff battle extremely tight in the Western Conference -- the sixth through 11th spots are separated by a mere three points -- the Predators realize there is a lot of work still to be done.

"The reason that we are having the success is that we're working and everyone is committed," Trotz said. "It's very easy to pat yourself on the back and say we've done a good job, but we still have 17 more games to go. A lot can happen in 17 games. The most important game coming up is Philadelphia (on Saturday). We've had good success at home, but we're going to have to have some success on the road if we are going to stay in this position."

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