The Nashville Predators return home to Bridgestone Arena this afternoon to face the Detroit Red Wings in one of the biggest, if not the biggest game of the season so far. The Predators have had Detroit's number this year, winning four games in a row after dropping the first game in Detroit. Even though they've wrapped up the season series against the Wings, there will be much more than pride and bragging rights on the line when these two rivals take the ice today.
Nashville's current run of form has them breathing down the Wings' neck in the Central Division. After last night's action, The Predators are tied with Los Angeles for 5th in the Western Conference, 2 points behind 4th place Phoenix, but more importantly, a mere 4 points behind the 3rd place and Central Division leading Red Wings. A regulation victory today puts the Central title very much within reach for Nashville with three games to go against Atlanta, Columbus, and St. Louis.
However, while us fans can look ahead at the rest of the schedule and at hypothetical playoff scenarios, the Boys in Blue certainly do not have that luxury. There is only one task at hand for our Nashville Predators: Beat the Red Wings.
Follow after the jump for projected lineups and keys to the game:
One has to think that with Matt Halischuk's play on Thursday night, Trotz will keep him in the lineup and make JP Dumont the healthy scratch.
And in net:
|2010 - Pekka Rinne||60||3547||31||21||124||2.10||1758||1634||.929||6|
You hate to see a player get hurt, but having Pavel Datsyuk out for today's contest certainly helps the Predators' cause. Also, Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard will be returning to the ice after sitting out two games with a sore left shoulder; and we all know what happens when Nashville faces a rusty goaltender.
And in net:
|2010 - Jimmy Howard||58||3313||34||15||153||2.77||1670||1517||.908||2|
Keys to the game:
Play for 60 minutes: Did I use this one for Thursday's preview? Yep. Did the Predators play for 60 minutes? Nope. Did it almost cost them the game? Absolutely. In the last two third periods Nashville has played, they've been outshot by a whopping 32-7. That certainly won't fly tonight. Nashville has done a great job getting an early lead, but it's a moot point unless they can protect that lead late in the game.
Bombard Howard: Like I mentioned above, Jimmy Howard will be playing with a little rust when the puck drops this afternoon, and if Nashville can follow the formula they used to shake up Jonas Hiller last week, they'll have a good shot at receiving similar results. In just over 11 and a half minutes of ice time, the Predators got 9 shots on Hiller, and 3 of them found the back of the net. Force Howard to make a lot of saves, and try to get him rattled early.
There's not much else to be said about this one. Certainly a must-win if we want to think about a Central Division title. As The Cell Block says: We Still Believe. We Are Smashville.
Check out Winging It In Motown for a Detroit perspective on today's action.