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Preds Embracing Challenges of Back-to-Back Weekend Against Blues

Nashville Faces Crucial Pair of Games Against Top Team in the West

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

As far as weekends in February come, they don't get much bigger than this.

A pair of massive matchups await the Nashville Predators over the next 48 hours - two contests against the St. Louis Blues that could go a long way in determining the course of action Predators General Manager David Poile and his staff elect to take on the Feb. 24 NHL Trade Deadline.

The time of moral victories has come and gone. A split between the two contests wouldn't be a bad option. But four points in two days might just vault the Preds back into a playoff spot by the time the work week arrives again.

The latter option is certainly a possibility, especially considering the manner in which the Predators have played as of late.

A 5-0 victory at home over the New York Islanders on Thursday night adds a boost of confidence to a team that already had plenty, despite having lost the final two outings of their Western Canada trip. Yes, the Preds need results more than anything right now, but there has been a lot to like over the last five contests that have seen Nashville post a 3-2-0 record.

"The first thing is our mental toughness is better, our mental focus is better," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said. "And what I mean by that is, I think we're prepared to execute better most nights to start the game. I think when we've hit adversity in games we've responded well and stayed with it. Last night, when we had a lead, and we had a pretty sizable lead, our game didn't change, and that's all signs of mental toughness, focus, belief in what you're doing and guys playing the right way. When you do those things, it gives you a chance more often than not to win."

As of Friday afternoon, the Predators sat three points behind Arizona for the second Wild Card spot, with four games in hand. It's not an insurmountable difference by any stretch, but the Preds are well aware time is of the essence at this juncture.

"You'd love to be comfortably in a playoff spot, but we look at it as a chance to move up," Preds forward Nick Bonino said. "A few years ago, when I was with Pittsburgh, we were at the bottom of the League halfway through, then St. Louis last year was down in the standings at Christmas, so it's not unfamiliar territory for winning teams. All you need to do is get into the playoffs and anything can happen, so that's our focus. Placement doesn't matter, we just need to get the points to get in, and that's all we're worried about is the next one."

Bonino and his linemates, Craig Smith and Rocco Grimaldi, all had plus-4 ratings in Thursday's 5-0 victory with Smith tallying his first-career hat trick. The unit was a catalyst in Nashville's win, and while that result leaves a good feeling in the room, it won't mean a thing if the group doesn't follow it up Saturday with another consistent, 60-minute effort.

Recent outings have showcased the mental fortitude that has been a focus for the Preds since Hynes arrived on the scene over a month ago, and the strength in that side of the game is starting to appear with regularity more often than not.

"When Hynes came in, he wanted to focus on the process more than on the results, and I think it's important," Preds Captain Roman Josi said. "As long as the process is right and you keep getting better each game and keep playing better, it's a good sign. For us, it's not getting too low after a loss and not getting too high after win. Yesterday is not going to help us tomorrow in St. Louis. There's a lot of confidence, but we still have a lot of work to do."

With 74 points in the standings, the Blues find themselves atop the Western Conference standings, as a follow up to their Stanley Cup championship last June. The opposition is about as formidable as it will get for the Preds the rest of the way, a true test of what this team is capable of doing.

But for a group that has adopted the mantra "Embrace the Grind" for the remainder of the season, they have no choice to do exactly that on a wildly important weekend.

"It's going to be a good challenge," Hynes said. "The thing I like about it is that you have to bring a highly competitive level to be in the game, No. 1, and then it comes down to your smarts and execution. There's going to be some physicality in the series, some playoff-type hockey, the type of hockey you want to play this time of year. Mentally and physically, we're ready to do it, so I'm really excited to see our team play."

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