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Here we go, folks...

Tonight's tilt against the L.A. Kings could be considered the kickoff to the "Do or Die" stretch of this NHL season for Predators fans. With 10 games left after tonight, and a gap to make up relative to the Northwest Gang that sits ahead of them in the standings, almost every single day brings at least one important game to the Western Conference playoff picture. It's time to bite those nails down to the bone, nervously click "Refresh" on the out-of-town scoreboard every 30 seconds, and live or a die a little with each goal for or against the Preds for the next 3.5 weeks. And if they succeed? You guessed it, more stress to come thanks to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Roller Coaster
Hold on tight, this is gonna get bumpy!

Some might think this is too much to ask of devoted fans who have had to deal with stress and turmoil surrounding their team ever since Craig Leipold put the franchise up for sale last May. Between the Tomas Vokoun trade, the Balsillie-ness, and the haggling over the Sommet Center lease, hockey fans here have been in crisis mode for almost a year straight. Now with the business-related aspects of the team settled for the time being (the paid attendance target for revenue sharing is supposedly a slam-dunk, and the team took back the option of breaking the current lease if 14,000 isn't hit), we have a team sitting in 9th spot, in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time since 2003.

But you know what? This is the reward for all that struggle, by individual fans digging deeper than perhaps they should and buying more tickets, or jawboning friends into trying out a game. The reward is having a competitive hockey team that's playing hugely important games down the stretch. These are the times that years down the road, you look back on as a fan. Whether that's with fondness or disappointment, only time will tell. But the next few weeks will assuredly carve out a new, dramatic chapter in Predators lore.

Last night, Anaheim knocked off Vancouver 4-1, and Washington topped Calgary 3-2; thankfully, both games were decided in regulation, so no cheapie points were awarded to the losers.

Looking ahead to this evening, the Flames are in action again, this time in Atlanta, while the Devils go down to Minnesota (which has lost four straight), and the Oilers visit Colorado. Vancouver plays in Phoenix. Here's to hoping that the Battle of the Northwest saps the strength of all teams involved...