Eighty-one down, one to go. The Nashville Predators will conclude their 2016-17 regular season this evening in the province of Manitoba, when they face the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. It's the final game of the season for both clubs; Nashville has clinched a spot in the postseason, while the Jets will likely finish just outside of the playoff picture, in ninth in the West.
Nashville comes into Winnipeg after topping the Dallas Stars by a 7-3 final on Thursday night, led by Viktor Arvidsson with two goals and four points. Craig Smith also scored twice for Nashville - Kevin Fiala, Roman Josi and Harry Zolnierczyk rounded out the scoring for the Preds - and Juuse Saros collected his 10th win of the season.
After his four-point outing, Arvidsson is now tied with Ryan Johansen for the team lead with 61 points, followed by Filip Forsberg with 58. Arvidsson and Forsberg share the team lead with 31 goals apiece, followed by James Neal with 23. The Preds have four players looking to skate in all 82 games this season with Forsberg, Johansen, Calle Jarnkrok and Mattias Ekholm just one game away. Pekka Rinne has gone 31-18-9 in net this season; Saros is 10-8-3.
Winnipeg (39-35-7) will finish at least nine points out of the final Wild Card spot in the West this season, but they haven't gone away quietly to end the year, winning six consecutive outings. Mark Scheifele leads the team with 81 points, followed by Blake Wheeler with 73. Rookie sensation Patrik Laine has 36 goals for the Jets, Scheifele has 32, and both Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers have 25 tallies. Connor Hellebuyck is 25-19-4 on the season; Michael Hutchinson is 9-12-3.
Video: Preds play regular-season finale in Winnipeg
The Preds held an optional morning skate on Saturday in Winnipeg. Head Coach Peter Laviolette announced after the skate that Pekka Rinne will start in goal tonight for Nashville, with a chance to see Juuse Saros at some point as well.
"We're going to give him some work," Laviolette said of Rinne. "I'm going to keep an eye on the game, realizing that the most important thing is next week. I think we've done a pretty good job [of getting guys into the lineup]. Last game was a perfect example, [Juuse Saros] got a game, Pekka took the game before that, [Brad] Hunt gets in there, [Miikka] Salomaki got another game, so there's just guys getting in there and getting work. As we move forward here, its anther opportunity for guys to get their game straight, including the goaltenders. Juuse gets last game, Peks will start tonight and we'll see how it goes over the course of the game. Peks needs some work, too, if you just look at the amount of time from when he played last moving forward. We'll just watch the game and see, but he'll start there."
Here's a look at Nashville's projected lineup.
As the Predators look for one more win in their regular-season finale, here are three things to watch for:
And Then There Was One:
For all the ups and downs that come over the course of six-plus months and 82 games of an NHL regular season, the Predators have made it to the finish line, clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive year. They'll close this season out against a Winnipeg team that possesses four 25-goal scorers, including a dynamic talent in rookie forward Patrik Laine.
Head Coach Peter Laviolette has held the same message over the past couple of weeks - he just wants his team to play well during the final stretch as the postseason approaches. The Jets may not be in the playoff picture, but a team that's won six straight will certainly give the Predators a worthy test to close things out.
With a four-point night in Dallas, Viktor Arvidsson shot up the leaderboard to tie Ryan Johansen for the team lead with 61 points. Arvidsson is also tied with Filip Forsberg for the team lead in goals with 31. The fact Arvidsson has a chance to finish atop the Nashville roster in goals and points this season speaks volumes of how far he's come in such a short amount of time. So, does he have one - or four - more points in him tonight?
"I think everybody in the room is just happy for him," Laviolette said of Arvidsson after the win in Dallas. "He's truly earned his 30 goals. Coming into the year, not knowing what kind of year he was going to have, to see it to this point right now is pretty special for him and everybody is happy for him."
One Last Look:
It's been no surprise this week that the Predators lineup has seen some changes with Laviolette making sure everyone gets a shot before the postseason. The bench boss explained that the ins and outs across the roster has been more about making certain every player is ready, just in case their number is called in the weeks - and perhaps months - to come. Tonight marks the final chance for Laviolette and his staff to acclimate whomever they choose before the Game One lineup is determined next week.
Take It In:
Tonight's contest from MTS Centre in Winnipeg comes with a 6 p.m. CT start, with pregame coverage beginning on Fox Sports Tennessee at 5:30 p.m. and 102.5 The Game at 5 p.m.