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Solving Luongo

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The Predators suit up tonight in Vancouver for yet another critical Western Conference matchup; currently the Canucks are two points behind Nashville for the 8th playoff spot, and they've got a game in hand on the Preds. Vancouver comes into this one stumbling as of late, coming off four consecutive losses to Columbus, Chicago and Colorado (twice), with the first two being OT/SO losses. The Predators, meanwhile, are coming off impressive road wins in Dallas and Edmonton. Can they keep it going against the goaltender who stymied them back on February 21, when Robert Loungo made 49 saves on the way to a 3-2 overtime win for the Canucks?

At the other end, it will be very interesting to see if Dan Ellis gets the start in net, which would be his 3rd straight and probably serve as an unofficial coronation as the team's #1 netminder. If Barry Trotz is truly running a meritocracy, where players get ice time based on their performance, you have to give the nod to Ellis based on what he's done this year. Both he and Chris Mason have been excellent at times, but Ellis has been by far the more consistent of the pair. I suspect there will plenty of work for both goaltenders in the final weeks of the season, but Ellis is the unsung hero of the Predators season so far; over at TSN's player rankings, they have him as the #6 most effective player in the league who doesn't qualify for the general rankings due to games played.

UPDATE: Yup, Ellis gets the start tonight, and Koistinen stays in the lineup as well.

If Nashville fans need any further motivation, there's always the rising tide of sentiment around the hockey world that just doesn't want to see the Predators make the playoffs, in lieu of "more interesting" teams like Phoenix and Chicago. Damien Cox over at ESPN chimed in yesterday with that line of thought, which was seconded today by Greg Wyshynski (who writes pretty much everywhere) in his NHL Closer for Deadspin. Tough luck, guys; to local fans, there's nothing more enjoyable than thumbing our collective noses at those who root for the Predators to fail...

Also, while you're at it, the guys at Puck That Hit are having a poll to select the Hottest Ice Girls in the NHL, with the Preds' own Goal Girls running 4th in the voting at this point.

No local TV again tonight, so I will try to live blog the game, using the tool I used Tuesday for the Oilers game, called "Cover It Live". It's a pretty interesting little app, and I plan to flex a few more features this time around.