Current positions in the Western Conference standings are far from solidified. The shifting and sliding that can occur in the final three weeks of the regular season provide a number of possible combinations for first-round matchups in the postseason, but with 10 games to go in the Nashville Predators’ schedule, it’s worth taking a look into who may be on the other side of the ice come mid-April.
So tomorrow’s contest with the Los Angeles Kings at Bridgestone Arena is one that gets the attention of the Preds. If the current seedings were to remain unchanged when the final horn sounds in three weeks, it would be the Preds and Kings facing off in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Not only do the Predators want to face the League’s top teams as a measuring stick to see how they compare to the NHL’s best, but the potential clash looming in the distance is also reason for an added focus on Monday night.
“You never know how it’s going to unfold; this time of the year is crazy and you never really know what’s going to happen,” center Ryan Johansen said after Sunday’s practice at Ford Ice Center. “We’re aware they could be one of our opponents, and that’s why we want to make sure they know what our hockey club is capable of doing. It’d be cool to play in L.A. and in the Staples Center in the playoffs. We’ll see what happens.”
No matter what happens in a few weeks’ time, the Preds still have to face a Los Angeles team tomorrow that has already clinched their playoff spot and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. When asked about the challenges presented against the Kings, Head Coach Peter Laviolette had plenty on his list.
“They’re playing really well right now,” Laviolette said. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical, they’re good defensively, they have a good goaltender, they’re capable offensively and they have some talented players on their team. Any time you play teams like that, you know you’re going to be in for a battle. You have to be ready to compete, be ready to play the game fast.”
With 72 games completed on the 2015-16 slate, the Preds like the way they’re playing, but are also far from satisfied with what they’ve achieved to date. The mindset headed into the final 10 contests reflects that thought, with a concentration on playing at their highest level at the forefront.
“You look at our record and compared to most teams, we’re one of the hotter teams, and we want to make sure we’re not letting up,” center Mike Fisher said. “We’re feeling good and continuing to get better and preparing for the playoffs. That’s why we play all year is for Game One of the playoffs and that’s when the fun really begins.”
“We want to play our highest level of hockey; if we can do that leading up to the postseason I think it’ll just carry over right into the playoffs,” Johansen said. “We have a lot of great players on this team, and we have a great opportunity here to take these next 10 games and have a nice little swagger walking into the playoffs.”
It’s quite possible tomorrow will the last time the Predators see the Kings until next season. Or, Nashville could be jetting off to California in only a matter of weeks. There’s only one way to find out, and the Preds can’t wait.
“We want to finish strong and in these last 10 games, we want to be playing our best hockey going into the playoffs,” defenseman Barret Jackman said. “It’s a little added incentive to make a statement tomorrow if L.A. is our first-round matchup, so it’s definitely going to have the feel of a playoff game.”
News and Notes:
The Preds recalled forwards Eric Nystrom and Gabriel Bourque from AHL Milwaukee and their Long-Term Injury Loans on Sunday morning. Nystrom, who had been out with a broken foot, is ready to play, while Bourque remains out with an upper-body injury.
Center Mike Ribeiro was absent from practice on Sunday and was given a maintenance day. Defenseman Anthony Bitetto was also absent and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Center Paul Gaustad did not practice and remains out with an upper-body injury.
Center Mike Fisher, who played his 1,000th NHL game on March 3, will be honored for the accomplishment prior to Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings.