The final road trip of the regular season is underway for the Nashville Predators, and it begins tonight in Dallas with a meeting against the Stars at American Airlines Center. It's a tale of two teams in different positions - the Predators with a spot clinched in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Stars just playing for pride.
Nashville is jockeying for playoff positioning, a positive showings in the next two games - tonight and Saturday at Winnipeg - could give them a shot at finishing third in the Central Division. Standing in their way will be two teams who would like nothing more than to close out their campaigns with a couple of victories headed into the offseason.
The Predators fell 2-1 in overtime on Tuesday to the New York Islanders in their home finale, collecting their 92nd point of the season. Mike Fisher scored the lone goal for Nashville - his 18th of the season - and Pekka Rinne took the loss in net.
Ryan Johansen enters the final two games of the regular season with the team lead in points with 61, followed by Filip Forsberg with 58 and Viktor Arvidsson with 57. Forsberg's 31 goals lead the club, followed by Arvidsson with 29 and James Neal - who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury - with 23. Roman Josi has 48 points from the backend; P.K. Subban has 38. Rinne has gone 31-18-9 on the season; Juuse Saros is 9-8-3.
Dallas (33-36-11) is 5-4-1 in their last 10 outings, including a 3-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn lead the team in points with 70 and 67, respectively, with 25 goals apiece. Jason Spezza has 49 points for the Stars; defenseman John Klingberg has 47. Kari Lehtonen owns a 21-24-7 record between the pipes; Antti Niemi is 12-12-4.
Video: Preds play penultimate game of the regular season
Update: The Preds may dress a different-looking lineup tonight with James Neal potentially returning. For a look at Nashville's projected lineup, click here.
As the Predators look to jump out of the Wild Card spot, here are three things to watch for:
Shot at the Night:
Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette alluded to the fact that he may put some different faces in the lineup over Nashville's final week, and forward Miikka Salomaki and defenseman Brad Hunt both got their chance in the lineup on Tuesday night. As Laviolette reiterated during his postgame press conference on Tuesday, these last two games afford the Preds a chance to determine exactly who they might want in the lineup when the playoffs begin next week.
"We're looking at possibilities of teams we might play and lines we might use," Laviolette said. "We have a couple guys who are banged up and couldn't play tonight, so we're sifting through that. Whatever the combinations, I think we're comfortable with that going into the postseason, whatever they might be."
These last two games away from home don't mean as much as the next two after that, but the Predators are still hoping to use this time visiting rinks as an opportunity to prepare for what might lie ahead in the postseason. Nashville is guaranteed to start their first round series on the road, and that mentality of playing in a hostile environment will get some practice over the next few days.
"We know we're going to have to get on the road here in the playoffs," Captain Mike Fisher said. "These two games - we need to treat them like any other game. We have to be ready and battle, and get some good habits going. Every game is still an important game. We can't let up."
Two games remain for two players to hit their own offensive marks. Center Ryan Johansen, who leads the club in assists with 47, is one helper away from setting the franchise record for assists by a centerman in a single season. His linemate, Viktor Arvidsson, is one tally away from the 30-goal mark. If Arvidsson is able to hit it, he'll join Filip Forsberg as the third pair of Preds in franchise history to score 30 in one season.
Take It In:
Tonight's game in Dallas comes with a 7:30 p.m. CT puck drop, with pregame coverage beginning on Fox Sports Tennessee at 7 p.m. and 102.5 The Game and the Preds Radio Network at 6:30.