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Game Day: Preds vs. Lightning

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(25-21-8) Nashville Predators vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (29-20-4)
  6:30 P.M. CT | Amalie Arena | #NSHvsTBL
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game

The Nashville Predators begin a set of back-to-back games tonight in the Sunshine State, as they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. It's the second of two meetings between the clubs this season; the Preds topped the Bolts 5-4 in a shootout back in October in Nashville.

The Predators are coming off a 5-3 loss to the League-leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday, but went 4-0-0 during their last road trip at the end of January. Tampa Bay has lost two in a row, but are 7-3-0 in their last 10 outings and hold a 17-8-2 mark at home.

Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm is scheduled to play in his 200th career NHL game this evening against the Lightning. Drafted 102nd overall (fourth round) in the 2009 Draft, Ekholm has notched 51 points in 199 career NHL games (14g-37a). Ekholm has posted 24 points (6g-18a) in 54 contests this season and is one goal shy of tying his career high for goals scored in a season (8, set last season). A native of Borlange, Sweden, he skated in his first NHL game on Oct. 13, 2011, against the Phoenix Coyotes. Since Jan. 1, He has notched 12 points in 16 games (2g-10a).

Both Nashville and Tampa Bay are stingy when it comes to allowing goals in the first period, both have given up 33 first-period goals this season, which is tied for fifth fewest in the NHL. Heading into Friday's action only the Anaheim Ducks (28), Florida Panthers (27), Los Angeles Kings (29) and Carolina Hurricanes (31) have allowed fewer in the opening frame.

Nashville has points in eight of 11 games against Atlantic Division opponents this season, posting a 6-3-2 record against them.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne has a 5-0-0 record against Tampa Bay in his career, which is one of only two teams Rinne has never lost a game against in regulation (Boston). Both Calle Jarnkrok (2g-1a) and Ryan Johansen (1g-4a) carry three-game point streaks into this evening's matchup.

Defenseman Roman Josi leads the Preds in scoring with 38 points, followed by Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg, who are both tied at 35 points apiece. James Neal leads Nashville with 19 goals on the season, followed by Forsberg with 17 and Weber with 14. Mike Ribeiro has 27 assists and 33 points overall. Johansen has 15 points in 14 games since joining the Predators. Rinne is 20-18-7 on the season; Carter Hutton is 5-2-1.

Neal has a point in eight of his last nine outings versus the Lightning (7g-8a-15pts); Josi has a point in three of his last four games against Tampa Bay (1g-2a).

Nikita Kucherov is Tampa Bay's top point getter, posting 45 this season, including 21 goals. All-Star Steven Stamkos has also tallied 21 times and is second on the club with 40 points. Defenseman Victor Hedman has five goals and 32 points from the blue line; Vladislav Namestnikov has 10 goals 26 points. Ben Bishop is 21-15-3 for the Lightning between the pipes with a 2.07 goals-against average.
The Predators have won seven of their last eight games against the Lightning (7-1-0 record). All-time, the Preds are 10-8-3 against the Bolts.

Dads Reminisce During Morning Skate:

When a father helps tie his son’s skates for the first time, he isn’t thinking about the long-term ramifications or what his future return on investment might be. Gathered at Amalie Arena for the Preds morning skate on Friday, however, the dads and other supporters on the team’s annual Fathers Trip should be forgiven if they paused to turn nostalgic.

Jim Fisher, Mike’s father and a veteran of the trip, said the opportunity to accompany his son on a road trip takes him back to similar adventures during Mike’s childhood. He’s not complaining that his particular journey has involved a few more sunrays than previous excursions.

“It’s kind of reminiscent of when the kids were in minor hockey and they were going away for a tournament,” Jim said. “You're rooming with your son, you're going to the rink on the bus and so on; it’s nice to get to know the other parents and the other players better too.”

For some of the fathers of the Preds European players, the trip also offers the opportunity to better understand the country where their sons now reside. Peter Josi, father to Roman, saw the White House for the first time on a previous Fathers Trip to Washington, D.C., and said he also enjoys the opportunity to understand the NHL even further.

“Every time with the other fathers is very interesting, to hear about their history with the sons is very interesting and a lot of fun,” Peter said. “I played soccer, but Roman grew up near the ice rink of his hometown in Bern, [Switzerland], and we went with him to the ice rink to learn a little bit of skating… He said maybe soccer or maybe ice hockey, but his brother took him to the rink, and said, ‘we will play ice hockey.’”

Peter, who works in a factory in Switzerland that helps produce the honey in Toblerone candy and other dried fruits, admits he still finds himself in awe of the point to which Roman has progressed. The Josi patriarch said you don’t forecast your son to become an All-Star NHL defenseman when you’re helping strap on hockey pads for the first time, after all.

That’s why the unity felt among the fathers of the Preds players is so special. Unique experiences have all led their sons to the position of prominence they’re in now, and their dads have had integral roles in getting them there.

“My favorite part of these trips is just the camaraderie with the fathers, because we all have a common denominator, we’re all here for the same reasons,” Jack Hutton, Carter’s father, explained. “I’ve been a rink rat since I was seven years old, so continuing to be close to the game like this - I just love it.”

To view more photos from the Preds Fathers Trip, click here or on the photo above.

Ekholm Hits 200:

Predators d-man Mattias Ekholm will log his 200th career game in the NHL when he suits up tonight versus the Lightning. The 25-year-old Swede has developed into a pillar on the Preds blue line over the past two seasons, a fact Head Coach Peter Laviolette acknowledged on Friday morning:

“He’s really efficient at everything he does from regular shifts, to penalty kill and power play,” Laviolette said. “He’s able to play big bodies and a lot of minutes too. He can add offense when we need him too. He’s been a really, really steady player for us this past season and a half.”

The 200 contests have flown by, according to Ekholm, who says tonight’s game will be memorable simply for the challenge it presents.

“They were in the Cup Final last year, and they have highly skilled forwards on their team,” Ekholm said of Tampa Bay. “We have to be really good tonight. Our gaps need to be extra close, and we can’t give them a lot of space to create out there. We need to be hard in corners as well.”

Projected Lineups:

Nashville Predators:

Calle Jarnkrok Ryan Johansen James Neal
Filip Forsberg Mike Ribeiro Craig Smith
Colin Wilson Mike Fisher Viktor Arvidsson
Miikka Salomaki Paul Gaustad Cody Bass
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm Ryan Ellis
Barret Jackman Anthony Bitetto


Goaltenders: Pekka Rinne is the expected starter in net with Carter Hutton serving as the backup.

Extra: (D) Petter Granberg, (F) Austin Watson, (F) Gabriel Bourque (IR; upper-body), (F) Eric Nystrom (IR; lower-body)

Tampa Bay Lightning:

The Lightning held an optional morning skate on Friday. Their lineup below is based on their lines used during Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

Ondrej Palat Vladislav Namestnikov Steven Stamkos
Alex Killorn Tyler Johnson Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Brown Valtteri Filppula Ryan Callahan
Cedric Paquette Brian Boyle Jonathan Marchessault
Victor Hedman Andrej Sustr
Nikita Nesterov Anton Stralman
Matt Carle Braydon Coburn


Goaltenders: Ben Bishop is the announced starter in net with Andrei Vasilevskiy serving as the backup.

(D) Jason Garrison (IR), (D) Slater Koekkoek, (F) Erik Condra

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