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In the final game before the All-Star break, the Nashville Predators take on the Western Conference's best team in the Vancouver Canucks for the first time this season. Nashville is 4th in the West with 60 points, while Vancouver leads the pack with 69. It is a battle of two teams with vastly different methods of success - the Canucks largely rely on three players to carry the scoring load, while Nashville banks on someone different stepping up every night. So far, and for both teams, it's working.
It would not be fair to categorize it as the biggest game of the year, but in many ways, it may be the most enlightening to date.
You might say that tonight's tilt is ye olde unstoppable force against the immovable object, but the Canucks employ both methods, with an elite offense and solid defense. Their depth is fairly stunning - the Sedin twins on the top line, Ryan Kesler on the second, and Manny Malhotra anchoring the shutdown unit.
It bears watching, then, which defensive pairing Barry Trotz matches up against which line. If Shea Weber and Ryan Suter draw the Sedins, then 6 and 20 will be restricted offensively throughout the night. On the other hand, if the job is given to Kevin Klein and Shane O`Brien, then it could be one of those games that takes forever to end but was over before it started.
It sounds as if J.P. Dumont will return for Nashville, which will be a welcome sight. Dumont's presence alone allows the Predators to roll four capable lines, which is paramount against a team of Vancouver's caliber.
Whatever happens, though, tonight is a stiff test for a Predators team that has played better than anyone expected, and would currently hold home-ice advantage if the playoffs started today. If Nashville can beat the Canucks, they can beat anyone. A win in Vancouver would push morale even higher as the much needed All-Star break rolls around.