What will arguably be the most important 48-hour stretch the Nashville Predators have faced all season long has almost arrived.
With five games remaining on the schedule, the Preds continue to push to clinch a spot in the 2017 postseason. It's so close, but as Head Coach Peter Laviolette said after Thursday's loss to Toronto, there's still work to do.
That point was emphasized once again on Friday after team meetings and off-ice workouts for the Predators, in preparation for a back-to-back set this weekend against Central Division rivals Minnesota and St. Louis. The fun begins Saturday in Nashville when the Wild come to town, a matchup that could potentially offer a playoff preview. And Nashville's bench boss will make sure his club has their minds in the right state once puck drops at 1 p.m. CT on Saturday.
"Every game right now is so big," Laviolette said. "We won't change, we're not going to start thinking about St. Louis or talking about St. Louis, it'll just be Minnesota. We have to win a hockey game and our guys will be prepared for that. They'll be ready to play. We know it's not going to be an easy game. [Minnesota is] playing better, they're as deep as any team in the League at all positions and we'll have to play a good game."
Of course there is another game looming on Sunday afternoon that the Preds will travel for immediately following Saturday's conclusion. The contest in St. Louis - one the Predators hope they'll play as a lock for the postseason by that point - could prove to be astronomical when it comes to determining exactly who Nashville may face in the First Round of the postseason.
The Predators and Blues have continued trading the third spot in the Central Division with one another over the past couple of weeks. Entering Friday night's action, St. Louis holds that spot, one point ahead of Nashville with 90 overall. A third-place finish for the Predators would likely see them face Minnesota in Round One. However, a Wild Card spot could see either matchup with Chicago or more trips to California, like last season.
All that to say, the skaters inside the Nashville locker room won't be crunching any numbers or planning any excursions quite yet. Instead, they have their own game to worry about after dropping two straight in regulation for the first time in almost a month.
"We want to clinch playoffs… 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," center Ryan 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."
"We have to focus on our game and what we can control," Laviolette said. "We can't control what's going on around us or above us or below us; I think the most important thing is just to keep our eye on the ball and the work that we have to do."