Although it won't likely be known until the 1,230th game is in the books, the list of potential first-round opponents for the Predators is (slowly) beginning to take shape. We can, for all intents and purposes, eliminate the Northwest Division from any discussion here unless the Preds freefall into 7th, which would take a lot. At this point, catching St. Louis is also a long shot for any Central Division team, so we won't mention that Nashville owns the Blues in '11-12, going 4-0-1 in the first five meetings.
So here's the most likely candidates for a best-of-seven tilt in round one:
Detroit: One of two likely 4-5 matchups, the Preds are 2-3-0 against the Red Wings with a March 30 meeting left at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit is going through one of the roughest stretches in recent memory, as they are 2-6-2 in the last 10 as injuries and road woes continue to take their toll. But they are still the Red Wings, and will be a tough first-round matchup regardless.
Chicago: The other likely 4-5 matchup, Nashville has fared well against the Blackhawks, 3-0-1 with two meetings left in a seven-day span (March 25 and 31). Two weeks ago, they looked resigned to the No. 6 slot but have been a human torch lately, going 8-1-1 in the last 10 to pull nearly even with the Preds and Red Wings for the 4th seed.
The Preds have postseason demons to exorcise against both teams, so each would make for a great, albeit tough, first-round opponent.
Should the Preds end up with the short straw in the 4-5-6 race, the Pacific winner would become the enemy in the first round:
Dallas: Might not be the best draw based on the season series alone. The Preds are 1-2-0 with another meeting serving as the home finale on April 5. However, the Stars are certainly no lock to stay there despite being 7-2-1 in the last 10.
Los Angeles: Perhaps the team nobody wants to see in the first round, as the Kings have found the back of the net more frequently and have won eight of the last 10, pulling to within one point of the No. 3 seed. The Preds didn't fare well against LA either, dropping three of four meetings this year.
Phoenix: Three of the Preds' four contests with the Coyotes came before the calendar turned. The teams split the season series this year, with each team winning on the other's home ice both times.
San Jose: The Sharks are running out of time to right the ship, but they're still close enough to warrant mentioning here. Nashville went 2-1-1 against the Sharks this year, posting one of their three six-goal outputs in Nashville on Feb. 25.
The most likely scenario is still Detroit or Chicago in the 4-5 series, and the Preds didn't fare so well against the Pacific Division this year, so there will be some discussion about who the Preds' best first-round opponent would be.
Good news, though. At least Edmonton won't be invited to the party. Talk about a giant killer.
Who do you think the Preds best match up with?