There's rest and relaxation ahead, but the Nashville Predators have to work before they earn the reward.
For the first time in League history, each team is receiving a bye week, a five-day break with no games, no practice, and for the Preds, it begins Monday. The only thing standing in their way is a weekend doubleheader with four points on the line.
Nashville hosts Florida on Saturday afternoon and Dallas on Sunday evening at Bridgestone Arena, two teams that, like the Predators, remain in the thick of the playoff race in their respective conferences. That only figures to magnify the intensity and importance of the weekend ahead.
"Just look at the standings," center Ryan Johansen said after Friday's practice at Centennial Sportsplex. "We know how crucial the points are each and every game now. You have to make sure you're ready for the start and try and play as complete a game as possible, so it's a great challenge for us back-to-back going into the break."
It can be tempting to lump a weekend such as this together, but as is always the case for Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette, it's one day, one game, one shift at a time.
"It's hard to go too far in advance, and every game is so important right now," Laviolette said. "Florida's a good team. They have some healthy bodies back, and they're in the same spot, trying to climb up the standings, so it'll be a good hockey game."
The Predators certainly hope so, and as they come off a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday, a game that saw them lose a 2-0 lead, the senses are heightened to not only start strong, but finish in the same manner.
"Our focus is to get on a good start here and feel good about our game," Captain Mike Fisher said. "There's parts of out game I feel like we can be better, and we're going to have to be better because these games, they don't get any easier. It's getting close to the [trade] deadline and teams are fighting for their lives."
It's human nature to look to what's ahead, especially if it may involve jetting off to a part of the continent with plentiful palm trees and sunshine, but the well-deserved break on the horizon will feel that much better with a solid weekend at home.
"We want to go into the break and be able to relax and feel comfortable about our game," Johansen said. "And when we get back, it's not getting easier when we get back. We've got Minnesota and Columbus back-to-back, so this weekend is a huge couple games for us."
P.K. Gives Back in Harlem:
P.K. Subban has a full schedule as it is, but the Preds defenseman found time on the team's recent trip to New York City to visit with his idol, former NHLer Willie O'Ree, and a group of boys and girls as part of an event hosted by Ice Hockey in Harlem.
The nonprofit organization has introduced thousands of boys and girls from Harlem to the sport, as well as expanding their educational opportunities. O'Ree, the first to break the League's color barrier in 1958, was honored on Wednesday night for his exceptional contributions to the game, and Subban couldn't help but stop by and share some smiles.
"It was great, a lot of fun," Subban said of the event. "I got to speak on [O'Ree's] behalf and meet some kids, so it was great. They were on cloud nine; they're extremely happy, and rightfully so."