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Game Day: Preds vs. Stars

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(39-24-13) Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars (45-22-9)
  7:30 P.M. (CT) | American Airlines Center | #NSHvsDAL
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game | Pregame: 7 P.M.


The Nashville Predators are back in action tonight in the Lone Star State. The Preds take on the Dallas Stars this evening at American Airlines Center less than 24 hours after falling 4-3 to the Colorado Avalanche in Nashville. The Predators are looking to clinch their spot in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and can do so tonight with a win over the Stars in any fashion and an Avalanche loss in regulation to the St. Louis Blues.

Despite the loss to Colorado on Monday, the Preds continue to remain hot, posting a 14-3-5 record and earning more points during that span than any other NHL club. Five of those victories have been against Central Division opponents, including wins against Dallas, Chicago and St. Louis.

The Stars beat San Jose 4-2 on Saturday and are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games as they currently sit in a tie with the Blues atop the Central Division with 99 points.

With four points in his last two games (1g-3a), Predators defenseman Roman Josi has 44 helpers this season, setting the single-season franchise record for most assists by a defenseman. The record previously belonged to Kimmo Timonen, who posted 42 assists during the 2006-07 season. Josi’s 57 points on the season (13g-44a) are also a career high, and give him the single-season record for most points in a campaign by a Nashville defenseman. The previous record holder was Shea Weber, who notched 56 points in 2013-14. Since Feb. 1, Josi has registered 22 points in 25 games (3g-19a), which is second only to Filip Forsberg’s 26 points in that span.

Forsberg and James Neal have each reached the 30-goal mark this season, becoming the fifth and sixth players in franchise history to attain the feat. It's also the second time that the team has had two, 30-goal scorers in a single season. The only other time that the Preds had multiple 30-goal scorers was 2005-06, when Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya each notched 31. The Preds are one of only two NHL clubs so far this season to have multiple 30-goal scorers, joining the Stars (Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin) in that category.

Forsberg's 31 goals and 58 points are both first among his teammates. Josi's 57 points are second on the Preds, followed by Neal with 51 and Mike Ribeiro with 49. Neal's 30 goals are second in the category, while Craig Smith hit the 20-goal mark for the third consecutive season on Monday. Weber has 18 goals and 48 points on the season. Goaltender Pekka Rinne, who started on Monday against Colorado but was pulled in the first period, is 32-19-10 this season. Carter Hutton, Nashville's 2016 Masterton nominee, is 7-4-3.

Forsberg has a point in three of his last five games versus the Stars (3g-1a) while Smith is on a three-game point streak against Dallas (3g-2a). Ribeiro has an assist in five of his last six games against Dallas (5a).

Benn leads the team in goals with 37 and points with 83. Seguin is second on the club in scoring with 73 points but is currently out due to injury. Jason Spezza has 29 goals and 57 points on the season; John Klingberg has 54 points from the blue line. Antti Niemi is 23-12-7 between the pipes; Kari Lehtonen is 22-10-2.

Nashville and Dallas meet for the fourth time this season tonight. The two teams have played a tight season series so far, with Nashville posting a 1-1-1 record. In the last meeting on March 1 at Bridgestone Arena, Weber notched three points (1g-2a) to help lead the team to a 5-1 win over the Stars. All-time, Nashville has a 29-34-5 record versus Dallas.

Neal Plays First of Two Against Former Teams:

Stepping onto the ice at American Airlines Center isn’t as nostalgic as it used to be for James Neal – after all, he hasn’t donned a Dallas Stars jersey since 2011.

The 28-year-old winger’s career began in Texas when he was drafted 33rd overall by the Stars in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and pulling on an NHL sweater for the first time isn’t something easily forgotten.

“I have all good memories; it’s a fun place to play, great place to live, and they’re just continuing to build a better team,” Neal said of his first NHL club on Tuesday morning. “I have nothing but good things to say, and I enjoyed my time here.”

Neal played with a number of recognizable names during his time with the Stars, including current Preds center Mike Ribeiro, who played in Dallas for six seasons. Neal also skated alongside the likes of Mike Modano, Brendan Morrow, Marty Turco and Brad Richards, all of whom played a role in showing Neal what it took to be a pro.

“I came in at a young age and those guys all did a great job of helping me out and guiding me in the right direction, especially Brad Richards, who’s one of my closest friends to this day,” Neal said. “He’s a guy I lived with, we were roommates and he took me under his wing and really helped me out.”

Nowadays, Neal returns to Dallas in a Nashville uniform, including tonight’s outing with the Stars. Neal and his teammates are hoping for a better start than the one they put forth last night against Colorado, a game in which the Preds found themselves down 3-0 in the first period.

“It was a tough one last night, and we need to regroup, put that behind us and come out with mindsets of having a good start and being face-off ready right from the first draw,” Neal said. “We’ve done a good job all year of battling back after a tough game and coming out with a good one, so I think everyone right now just wants to get their gear on and get playing. We’ll rest up and be ready to go.”

The chance for the Predators to clinch their spot in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs also exists tonight, just one more ounce of motivation in the second half of a back-to-back for the Preds. A win over the Stars in any fashion, combined with a Colorado loss in regulation to St. Louis seals the deal, but Nashville knows they have to hold up their end of the bargain first.

“You just want to do anything you can to get into the playoffs; you work all year for that, and that’s something we’re playing for and something we’ve played for all year,” Neal said. “We have to do everything to collect points and get ourselves a chance to play in the playoffs. We had tough start to the game last night, and then we found ourselves fighting back and chasing it, but it gives you a bad feeling when you lose that game. You want nothing more than to try to redeem yourself and try to get back out there and win a hockey game, so we have a chance to do that tonight.”


Projected Lineups:

Nashville Predators:

The Preds did not hold a morning skate on Tuesday. The below lineup is based on the one used Monday evening versus the Colorado Avalanche.


Forwards
Calle Jarnkrok Ryan Johansen James Neal
Filip Forsberg Mike Ribeiro Craig Smith
Colin Wilson Mike Fisher Viktor Arvidsson
Miikka Salomaki Colton Sissons Eric Nystrom
Defense
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm Petter Granberg
Barret Jackman Ryan Ellis

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Goaltenders: The Predators have not announced a starting goaltender for tonight. Monday night, Pekka Rinne was pulled in the first period in an eventual 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

Extra: (D) Anthony Bitetto (lower-body), (F) Paul Gaustad (upper-body), (F) Austin Watson) (F) Gabriel Bourque (upper-body)


Dallas Stars:

Forwards
Jamie Benn Cody Eakin Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark Jason Spezza Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel Travis Moen Ales Hemsky
Colton Sceviour Vernon Fiddler Patrick Eaves
Defense
Kris Russell Alex Goligoski
Stephen Johns Johnny Oduya
Patrik Nemeth John Klingberg

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Goaltenders: Kari Lehtonen is the projected starter in net with Antti Niemi serving as the backup.

Extra: (D) Jordie Benn, (D) Jamie Oleksiak, (F) Radek Faksa, (F) Tyler Seguin (IR), (D) Jason Demers

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