After defeating the Minnesota Wild on Saturday afternoon, the Nashville Predators are one point away from the postseason. The Preds jetted off to St. Louis to prepare to face the Blues at 3 p.m. CT today from Scottrade Center in the fifth and final meeting between the two clubs this season; Nashville holds a 3-1-0 edge against the Blues thus far.
Thanks to their victory yesterday afternoon, Nashville can clinch a spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a single point today against the Blues. Filip Forsberg, Kevin Fiala and P.K. Subban scored in the 3-0 win, while Pekka Rinne stopped all 31 shots he faced for his 43rd career shutout.
Ryan Johansen leads the Preds in scoring with 60 points, including 47 assists. Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are tied with 57 points apiece and Forsberg leads the club with 31 goals, just two away from tying the franchise single-season record. Arvidsson has 29 goals to his name and James Neal, who missed Saturday's game with an upper-body injury, has 23. Rinne is now 31-18-8 on the season; Juuse Saros is 9-7-3.
St. Louis (42-28-7) is coming off a 2-1 shootout loss to Colorado on Friday, but the Blues have points in each of their last eight games and currently sit third in the Central Division (winning the tiebreaker with Nashville). Vladimir Tarasenko leads the team with 36 goals and 69 points, followed by Jaden Schwartz with 51 points and Alexander Steen with 49 points. Patrik Berglund has tallied 22 times; Schwartz and Paul Stastny have 18 goals apiece. Jake Allen has gone 30-19-5 in net for St. Louis; Carter Hutton is 12-8-2.
Update: James Neal and Yannick Weber are day-to-day with upper-body injuries, for a look at Nashville's projected lineup, click here.
As the Predators look to clinch their spot in the postseason, here are three things to watch for:
Battle for Third:
Regular-season games don't get much bigger than this.
Nashville's win on Saturday gave them 91 points in the standings, good enough to tie the Blues for third place in the Central Division. As the two teams battle for positioning during the final week of the regular season, the winner of today's game could give themselves an advantage. It'll also give a Predators team - who feels they've been playing some solid hockey as of late - a great test against a club who has points in eight straight.
"[Today] is probably the biggest game of the year so far, and it's going to be fun," Forsberg said. "It's going to be really fun to go in there and try to climb the standings as high as we can."
Ryan Johansen continues to do what he's done all season long, setting up his teammates to put the puck in the net. He did it for the 47th time in 2016-17 on Saturday when he won an offensive zone faceoff back to Roman Josi, whose shot was tipped in by Filip Forsberg.
The assist tied Johansen with Mike Ribeiro for the team's single-season record for assists by a centerman and keeps Johansen just two away from cracking the Top Three in club history for a single season.
Forward James Neal came out of the Nashville lineup on Saturday with an upper-body injury, while Craig Smith went back in after missing Thursday's game with the same qualification. The top unit of Johansen, Forsberg and Arvidsson were back together, while Laviolette also went back to the trio of Smith, Colin Wilson and Colton Sissons, a group he was pleased with once more during his postgame comments on Saturday.
We'll wait to confirm during warmups, but Nashville's goaltenders traditionally switch during a back-to-back, meaning Juuse Saros could get the nod today. The young Finn has already had success in St. Louis this season, shutting out the Blues on Dec. 30.
Take It In:
Today's game in St. Louis comes with a 3 p.m. CT start, with pregame coverage beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Tennessee and 2 p.m. on 102.5 The Game.