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Preds Ready for Massive Matchup Against Stars in Smashville

Most Important Regular-Season Game in Recent Memory Arrives as Predators Set to Face Dallas on Saturday Night

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

Roman Josi has skated in some significant hockey games over the course of his career with the Predators.

Most of those have come in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but if he and his teammates are to secure a berth in the 2021 version of the postseason, they would certainly help their cause by winning one of the biggest regular-season games in recent memory.

The Predators and Dallas Stars - the two clubs vying for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division - will clash on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena for the eighth and final time this season, and the stakes aren't often this high before the playoffs begin.

"It feels kind of like we've been in playoff mode the last 10 games or so, and tomorrow's definitely a big game," Josi said following Friday's practice. "It's exciting. I don't remember the last time we were in a tight playoff race like this for such a long time, so it's an exciting time and it's a lot of fun."

"Dallas is a team that we've built a rivalry with over the years, and it's a big moment for our guys," Preds centerman Ryan Johansen said. "[It's a big moment for] myself and our young guys to go out there and have a big impact on this game that could be a difference maker in making the playoffs or not. We're pumped up."

Video: Johansen, Josi preview pivotal game vs. Dallas

Nashville has just five games to play in the regular season, Dallas has six, and with a two-point lead in the division, the Preds still control their destiny.

According to moneypuck.com, if the Predators are able to beat the Stars in regulation on Saturday, their chances at making the playoffs rise over 20 percentage points to an 89 percent chance overall. If they fall to Dallas in regulation, Nashville's odds to make the playoffs fall to just under 46 percent.

Just a bit of a swing on both sides.

The Predators won't be getting caught up in percentages, however. Instead, they're simply focused on playing the kind of hockey that has allowed them to be in a position such as this in the first place.

Out of playoff contention at the beginning of March, the Preds have turned their season around by earning a point in 17 of their last 23 games (16-6-1), a stretch that started with a 4-1 victory at Tampa Bay on March 15. In that time span, Nashville's 16 wins are tied for the second-most in the NHL.

One of those rare losses came on Tuesday - a 7-4 defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers - and the Preds have had some time to think about what went wrong.

For just the third time since the start of the season back in January, and the first occurrence since mid-February, the Predators have had three days between games, and the group took advantage by spending two days largely away from the rink to rest and refocus. That was followed up by a practice on Friday, a session that is always advantageous at a time of the season where recuperating off the ice is often paramount.

Now, the group is ready to go once more, and although just about everyone on the roster is dealing with at least some sort of minor ailment at this point in the campaign, it's easy to play through a bit of pain when there's this much on the line.

"It's an exciting time of year…and we've got a couple days to rest and recover, we had a really good practice today and I like the energy that our guys had," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said. "You're playing a rival team…and it's a fun time of year and it's a really competitive time of year. We're playing a really good hockey team, a rival team and it's exciting. So, the only thing we can focus on is to make sure that we're going to be at our best performance-wise."

Video: Coach Hynes previews crucial game against Dallas

"With the schedule, there's a lot of bumps and bruises, so for our guys to have a couple days to recuperate and heal up a little bit, it's been nice," Johansen said. "At the same time, you want to just get back out there on the ice and play right now this time of year, so we're ready to get back at it."

While extenuating circumstances continue to limit crowd sizes inside Bridgestone Arena, the Predators are starting to feel some of that familiar home-ice advantage once more, too. Capacity limits were recently increased to 33 percent for hockey games inside Nashville's home building, and the atmosphere has been noticeably different as of late.

That element certainly won't hurt matters for the Preds on Saturday night, and just as they have for years, Predators fans might just provide that extra boost needed in a game like this.

"The atmosphere that we've played in here at Bridgestone has been fantastic, and I think it's exciting," Hynes said. "Even though it's not at max capacity, I'm pretty sure the fans are happy to be back in the building and watching the team play, particularly with how competitive the guys have played. Now, you have a big rivalry game in your home building with a lot of fans in the stands, I think it's special, especially for the players. I think it's great for the organization, and most importantly, I think it's great for the fans."

For a season that started the way the 2020-21 version did, games like this weren't necessarily expected in the springtime. Yet, here they are, this group showing they've still got plenty left to prove.

There will still be work to do even if the Predators prevail on Saturday against the Stars, but simply put, these are the games hockey players love to play - and the Preds are ready.

"Every game is huge, but obviously playing Dallas straight up tomorrow night, [it's big]," Josi said. "It's a big game, and it's a lot of fun because we know it's going to be a playoff intensity game and we're excited for it."

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