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Preview: Looking to Clinch, Panthers Wrap Up Season Series with Predators

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

If at first you don't succeed, just try to clinch again.

Able to punch their ticket to the postseason with a win tonight, the Panthers will wrap up both a back-to-back set and their season series with the Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.

In the same situation 24 hours earlier, the Panthers came up short during their first opportunity to secure the franchise's seventh-ever playoff berth with a 4-1 loss to the Predators on Monday.

"We're going to regroup tomorrow," Panthers forward Anthony Duclair said after the game. "We still have a chance to clinch here and put ourselves in a good spot. We're just going to regroup, recharge and get back at it tomorrow."

With Juuse Saros battening down the hatches after Sam Bennett put the Panthers up 1-0 early in the first period of last night's game, the Predators went on to score four unanswered goals as Mikael Granlund, Nick Cousins, Erik Haula and Yakov Trenin lit the lamp to secure the 4-1 final.

Dominating the possession game, the Panthers peppered Saros with shots throughout the night, but managed to slip just one of 40 shots on goal past him. Looking at the numbers at 5-on-5, Florida owned massive advantages in shot attempts (61-27) and scoring chances (36-19).

That being said, Duclair noted the Panthers could've created more chaos around the crease.

"He's obviously a good goaltender, but I think we need to get more traffic," Duclair said of facing Saros. "We're shooting the puck a lot, but he's seeing everything. We're going to look at some video tomorrow and be better. We definitely need more traffic and more bodies at the net."

Teaming up for Florida's lone goal in last night's loss, Bennett and Duclair have both been red-hot. Since coming over at the trade deadline, Bennett has tallied seven points (four goals, three assists) in six games, while Duclair has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in that same span.

Dating back March 28, Duclair ranks tied for first in the NHL with a +16 rating.

"We're getting to know each other a little more off the ice too, so that helps," Duclair said of his success on a new-look line with Bennett and Jonathan Huberdeau. "The chemistry is coming along. … Every game you improve, and that's what we're doing here with Benny and Huby."

After coming into last night's game in relief of Chris Driedger, who exited late in the second period and is currently considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury, Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to return to the crease for Florida tonight. Sitting at 17-8-2 on the season, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has gone 5-3-0 with a .921 save percentage over his last eight starts.

As for other lineup notes, Panthers coach Joel Quenneville will speak to the media at 6 p.m. ET.

Looking to keep the Stars at bay in the ongoing fight for fourth place in the Central Division, the Predators have picked up wins in three of their last four games while outscoring their opponents 16-9 in that span. Owning a 27-21-2 record, Nashville has taken three of seven games from the Panthers so far this season and can potentially split the eight-game series with a victory tonight.

Roman Josi leads the Predators in scoring with 30 points (six goals, 24 assists), including two goals and four assists over his last seven games. After him, Filip Forsberg, who remains out of action with an injury, ranks second with 29 points, while Viktor Arvidsson sits in third with 25.

Putting the team on his back, Saros has started each of the last eight games for Nashville, posting a 5-2-1 record with a .926 save percentage in that span to improve to 18-9-1 on the season. If he finally gets a rest tonight, look for Pekka Rinne to take his place in the crease.

Owning a 9-12-1 record with a .902 save percentage, Rinne has taken a backseat to Saros during the home stretch, starting just three of 19 games for the Predators since March 21.

"I think the consistency level he's played with and to be ready mentally every night to play the way that he needs to play has been a real good growth step for him, and it's been a huge step for our team," Predators coach John Hynes said of Saros following last night's performance.

Winning five of their last eight games and looking to take care of business this time around, Radko Gudas expects the Cats to put it all on the line as they attempt to clinch again tonight.

"They're also playing for everything right now," the grizzled Panthers defenseman said of facing the Predators. "Every game for them is a do-or-die game. We want to match their intensity."

TEAM RECORDS

FLA: 31-14-5, 67 PTS

NSH: 27-21-2, 56 PTS

FLA all-time vs. NSH: 19-11-3-6

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Aleksander Barkov leads Florida in goals (22) and shots on goal (159), while also ranking second in points (49). Over his last six games, he's found the back of the net four times.

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in scoring with 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists). In seven games against Nashville this season, he's tallied 10 points, including scoring six goals.

-- MacKenzie Weegar leads Florida's defensemen in scoring with a career-high 29 points (four goals, 25 assists). He's also tied for second among NHL blueliners in even-strength points (26).

-- Patric Hornqvist ranks fifth on the Panthers in goals (14), including eight on the power play.

-- Radko Gudas leads Florida and ranks first in the NHL in hits with 218.

-- Frank Vatrano has lit the lamp seven times over his last 14 games to move into a tie for second on the Panthers with 17 goals, including a team-leading six game-winning scores.

-- Markus Nutivaara has accumulated six assists over his last eight games.

PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

Forwards

Frank Vatrano - Aleksander Barkov - Noel Acciari

Jonathan Huberdeau - Sam Bennett - Anthony Duclair

Lucas Wallmark - Alex Wennberg - Nikita Gusev

Ryan Lomberg - Juho Lammikko - Owen Tippett

Defensemen

Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar

Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour

Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas

Goaltenders

Sergei Bobrovsky

Spencer Knight

Scratches: Eetu Luostarinen, Patric Hornqvist, Matt Kiersted, Noah Juulsen, Anton Stralman, Chris Driedger (lower body), Mason Marchment (upper body), Carter Verhaeghe (upper body)

Taxi squad: Kevin Connauton, Scott Wilson, Cole Schwindt, Aleksi Heponiemi, Grigori Denisenko, Philippe Desrosiers

Injured reserve: Aaron Ekblad (lower body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- April 26: F Grigori Denisenko and F Aleksi Heponiemi were reassigned from AHL Syracuse to the Taxi Squad.

- April 17: F Cole Schwindt and F Scott Wilson were reassigned from AHL Syracuse to the Taxi Squad; F Aleksi Heponiemi, D Lucas Carlsson and D Brady Keeper were reassigned from the Taxi Squad to AHL Syracuse.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Tuesday, April 27 at 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Bridgestone Arena - Nashville, TN

TV: Bally Sports Sun

Stream: Bally Sports App

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 107.9 FM/1370 AM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM App & Streaming Ch. 932

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