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Game Day: Preds vs. Panthers

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(25-21-9) Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers (32-17-6)
  6 P.M. CT | BB&T Center | #NSHvsFLA
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game


The Nashville Predators finish off their two-game swing through the state of Florida tonight, as they face the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers at BB&T Center. It's the second half of back-to-back games for both clubs; Nashville fell 4-3 in overtime to Tampa Bay on Friday, while Florida lost 5-3 to St. Louis.

Preds forward James Neal became the first member of the team to notch 20 goals this season, when he scored in the third period against the Lightning on Friday. Neal has reached the 20-goal plateau in each of his first eight seasons in the NHL and is a member of an elite group of NHLers to accomplish that feat, including Florida's Jaromir Jagr and Washington's Alex Ovechkin.

Defenseman Mattias Ekholm played in his 200th career NHL game on Friday and is one goal shy of tying his career high for most goals in a season with eight. Since Jan. 1, He has notched 13 points in 17 games (2g-11a).

Defenseman Roman Josi leads the Preds with 40 points, followed by Filip Forsberg, who has 36. Captain Shea Weber, Mike Ribeiro and Neal have 35, 34 and 33 points, respectively. Neal's 20 goals are tops on the club, followed by Forsberg's 18 and Weber's 14. Josi and Craig Smith have 11 goals apiece. Pekka Rinne, who started Friday against the Lightning, is 20-18-8 on the season; Carter Hutton owns a 5-2-1 record.

Colin Wilson is on a four-game point streak against the Panthers (1g-3a), while Mike Fisher has a point in five of his last six games versus Florida (6g-2a). Smith also has a point in four of his last five games against the Panthers (2g-3a). Forsberg is on a three-game point streak while Calle Jarnkrok and Ryan Johansen each have points in three of their last four outings.

Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau are tied for the Florida lead with 40 points each on the season. Jussi Jokinen has 38 points, Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov have 35 each. Reilly Smith leads the club in goals with 18 on the season, followed by Jagr and Trocheck who have 17 apiece. Goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was pulled on Friday against the Blues, is 24-13-5; backup Al Montoya is 8-4-1.

Tonight will be the final meeting of the season between the Preds and Panthers; the two teams previously met on Dec. 3 at Bridgestone Arena, with Florida edging out the Predators 2-1. In the contest, Nashville outshot the Panthers 33-16 with Josi scoring the lone goal for the Preds.
 
Nashville enters Saturday's game with points in eight of their last 10 games against the Panthers, posting a 7-2-1 record; the series includes four consecutive one-goal games. All-time, Nashville holds a 11-8-4 record versus Florida.

Nashville has points in nine of 12 games against Atlantic Division opponents this season, posting a 6-3-3 record against them.

Preds Charged with Forgetting and Moving on:



Losses like the one the Predators experienced in Tampa Bay last night have the tendency to linger and fester. Giving up the tying goal in the final seconds of regulation, and then falling in overtime on Friday could affect how Nashville plays on Saturday, but their head coach says that isn’t an option.

“We have to move forward. It’s a disappointing, frustrating thing, and we have to move forward tonight,” Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said this morning. “We have an important game with important points on the line tonight. I think moving past that, as difficult as that is, and focusing on the present is really what we need to do and do it quickly.”

Still, the Predators did display several quality aspects of their team game versus Tampa Bay that Laviolette would like his club to try and replicate tonight. For him, it’s the wasted energy on frustration that must end for the Preds.

“We’ve been talking about trying to smother things defensively, and I thought as the game went on we did a better job of that,” Laviolette said. “Certainly in the third period we did a better job of that. We were able to score the goals we needed to, and we talked about that going into the third, putting ourselves in a position to win a hockey game. That’s where the frustrating part comes in and we didn’t do that. And we end up losing in overtime.”

Tonight, the Predators will complete their season series with a Panthers team that paces the Atlantic Division. The accession of south Florida’s hockey team has been quick and dramatic compared to the previous campaign, and Nashville’s bench boss says his team will need to be on their A-game this evening.

“They have drafted these players that are now having an impact in the game. Guys like Aleksander Barkov, even though he isn’t in tonight, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad,” Laviolette said. “They had some good pieces before in guys like Brian Campbell and Roberto Luongo. Now you take all that youth and you mix it in with that they had, and all of a sudden you watch them play the game and you realize this is a pretty good example of how the game is being played right now - size, speed and skill. That makes them extremely dangerous.”


Projected Lineups:

Nashville Predators:

The Predators did not hold morning skate on Saturday, below is the team's projected lineup based on their 4-3 overtime loss to the Tampa Lightning yesterday.

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

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Goaltenders: The Preds have not announced a starter for tonight's game. Pekka Rinne made 24 saves in Friday's contest versus the Lightning.

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


Florida Panthers:

The Panthers held an optional morning skate on Saturday. Their lineup is based on the players used in Friday's 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Forwards
Jonathan Huberdeau Nick Bjugstad Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen Vincent Trocheck Reilly Smith
Quinton Howden Brandon Pirri Logan Shaw
Garrett Wilson Derek MacKenzie Shawn Thornton
Defense
Brian Campbell Alex Petrovic
Dmitry Kulikov Aaron Ekblad
Steven Kampfer Brent Regner

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Goaltenders: Roberto Luongo is expected to start in net tonight with Al Montoya serving as the backup.

Extra:
(F) Aleksander Barkov, (D) Erik Gudbranson, (D) Willie Mitchell, (F) Dave Bolland, (F) John McFarland

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