The Nashville Predators are set to begin a pivotal 48 hours with a visit from the Minnesota Wild this afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The 1 p.m. CT matinee will mark the fifth and final meeting - at least in the regular season - between the two clubs; Minnesota holds a 3-1-0 record against Nashville this season, while the Preds are 1-2-1.
The Predators could find themselves with a spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the end of the weekend, depending on how things play out. With Los Angeles winning on Friday night, Nashville's magic number remains at three, and a win today could take it down to one.
Nashville's top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg continue to lead the team in scoring with 59, 57 and 56 points, respectively. Forsberg hit the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive season when he potted Nashville's lone score in a 3-1 loss to Toronto on Thursday night. Arvidsson has 29 goals on the season, and Neal has tallied 23. Captain Mike Fisher returned to the Preds lineup on Thursday from a lower-body injury and has 17 goals and 41 points this season. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has posted a 30-18-8 record between the pipes; Juuse Saros is 9-7-3.
Minnesota (45-24-8) sits second in the Central Division and has already clinched a playoff spot, but had a rough month of March, winning just four games. Mikael Granlund leads the team with 67 points, and Eric Staal has 27 goals for the Wild. Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker have also hit the 20-goal mark, and Mikko Koivu has 55 points on the season. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk has gone 37-19-5 this season, but has allowed 17 goals in his last five outings.
Update: For a look at the Predators projected lineup for this afternoon's game, click here.
As the Preds look to come closer to the postseason, here are three things to watch for:
Video: Preds play crucial set vs. Wild and then Blues
As mentioned above, the next 48 hours could have huge implications on Nashville's postseason positioning, and clinching in general. Two Central Division matchups against Minnesota and St. Louis will provide not only a solid test for the Preds on the ice, but also a better picture as to what the coming weeks could look like for the team.
"If we can have a good weekend here and come up with some wins and clinch playoffs, we'd be feeling really good about ourselves," Johansen said. "We'll take it one at a time, though, and we'll focus on Minnesota here and try to take care of business before we head over to St. Louis and try to have a good back-to-back."
Video: Johansen and Josi talk about facing the Wild
Bring Your Best:
Before the Predators worry about St. Louis, they'll focus on facing a Minnesota team that has struggled lately, but is still capable of putting the puck in the net, as evidenced by a 5-1 win over Ottawa on Thursday. The Wild have also had Nashville's number for most of the season, and even though the month of March hasn't been kind to today's visitors, the Preds know what to expect.
"We have to win a hockey game, and our guys will be prepared for that," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "They'll be ready to play. We know it's not going to be an easy game, they're playing better. They're playing well, and they're as deep as any team in the League at all positions. We'll have to play a good game."
Video: Laviolette previews huge weekend vs. Wild and Blues
Coach Laviolette had a couple of decisions to make prior to Thursday's game with Captain Mike Fisher returning to the lineup and forward Craig Smith exiting with an upper-body injury. Laviolette also tweaked some lines for a time, putting Viktor Arvidsson with Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal, before returning Arvidsson to his normal post alongside Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen. With an optional practice on Friday, and no morning skate prior to today's game, we won't know exactly what the Nashville lineup might look like until warmups, so we'll wait to see what tweaks - if any - are made.
When You Go:
Bridgestone Arena doors open at 11:30 a.m. CT for the 1 p.m. puck drop and the first 1,000 children ages 12 and under will receive their very own street hockey set, courtesy of Ford Ice Center. A Plaza Party presented by Lee Company kicks off at 11 a.m. on the Arena plaza.
Take It In:
Pregame coverage for today's 1 p.m. CT start begins at 12:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Tennessee and noon CT on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network.