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Nashville Predators @ Tampa Bay Lightning: Still In This

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Because the Preds, who are trying like hell to not be in the playoff race, still are.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators will start a mini-tour of the state of Florida, starting with a Friday night tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning and followed up 24 hours later with a match-up against the Florida Panthers. Hopefully the Predators can depart FLA-USA with a couple of points in hand. Hopefully they can string together a small stretch of productive, consistent hockey. Hopefully they can at least make it out of Florida without having an alligator thrown in their faces.

The desperation for points in the standings grows. The urgency is real. The Predators brought that urgency against the best team in the NHL on Tuesday. Unfortunately it came with a boat-load of turnovers and bad penalties and the Capitals left town with a relatively easy 5-3 win.

The last time the Predators played the Lightning (October 20th, 2015), the Preds grabbed two points in an overtime shootout win at home. The Predators badly need two points in this one.

The Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning have battled back after a rough start to the season, sitting at 29-20-4 with 62 points, good for 3rd in the Atlantic Division. They have found their way into the playoff picture, though they are being followed closely by upstart teams like the Devils, Bruins, Flyers, and... weird, the Canadiens. The Lightning have had to deal with Steven Stamkos rumors all season long, while also having problems properly tooling their lineup. Surprising for a team that looked as proficient as they did in their Cup run last year. But you need to get hot when it matters and the Lightning may be doing just that. Though they lost their last two games, they are still 7-3 in their last 10, getting big wins over the Penguins, Red Wings, Blackhawks, and Panthers.

The Lightning aren't a great team, but they are more balanced than you would think. Better than average offense, solid defense, and consistent goaltending. On offense, the Lightning generate 2.64 goals per game, which is good for 14th in the league. Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov lead the team with 21 goals each, though the depth beyond that is suspect. Tyler Johnson hasn't been the same force he was in the playoffs last year, mostly due to injury. With Johnson in and out of the lineup, the "Triplets" became the "Doublets" which became the "Singlets." The Lightning have been waiting for a line to fill the role vacated by that dangerous trio last year. They've had to rely on a host of other guys to provide scoring threats, guys like Vladislav Namestnikov (10 goals) and Alex Killorn (9 goals). The Lightning, like the Predators, need a scoring boost from their 2nd-4th lines.

Defensively, the Lightning only allow 2.40 goals per game, which is good for 8th in the league. You can chalk most of that up to Ben Bishop, who has a .924 save % in 39 starts. Their defense is led by Victor Hedman, who will have to play an even bigger role now that Jason Garrison will be out 3-5 weeks with a lower body injury. Hedman leads all Tampa Bay defensemen with 32 points (5g, 27a).

The Nashville Predators

So much to cry over, so much to be angry about, so much to be disappointed in... BUT LOOK:

FIRMLY holding onto that 8 spot YESSIR.

For obvious reasons, the Preds can forget about the Central Division. The Preds are 11 points out of the 3rd spot, held by the St. Louis Blues, and 18 points out of the top spot, held by the Chicago Blackhawks. Nope. Not happening. Instead, the road to the playoffs will be crowded with Avalanches, Wilds, Canucks, and Coyotes, all hoping that the Preds lose out on the dreaded welcomed wild-card spot.

But even for that, the Predators will still have to play above average hockey the rest of the way. Take a look at the current breakdown over at sportsclubstats.com:

The far left column is the resulting Predators' point total given their W-L-OT record in the final 28 games from the middle column. The far right column is the percent chance they make the playoffs with that point total. The red line is the "more likely to make the playoffs than not" marker. Every projected finish above that line more than likely ends with the Predators in the playoffs.

At the risk of over-simplifying the very complicated algorithms that go into the nifty-ness over at sportsclubstats, essentially, of the possible 56 remaining points on the board, the Preds need 30 to keep their playoff chances above 50%. And ideally, they need to get more like 36-38 of those 56 to be comfortably in the playoffs.

The point is this: the Preds cannot afford to play .500 hockey the rest of the way or else their playoff fate is almost certainly not in their own hands. They must win more games than they lose from here on out. That is their fate at this point. Get hot or get out.

Can the Preds win 16-18 of their final 28 games? Can they make an earth-shattering, mountain-moving, walk-on-water, slightly above average streak towards the playoffs?

At this point, who flippin' knows, man.

Reasons To Watch

  • Because you are willing to risk a 1-0 misery-laden crap fest if it is at least possible that the Preds bust out a 7-2 walloping. Which, because it's the Preds, is definitely possible.
  • Because you want to watch Ryan Johansen make another unreal pass or two.
  • Because somebody made Filip Forsberg angry and you want to watch him do that fist-pump thing again.
  • Because it's Abraham Lincoln's birthday.

Pre-Game Music

Because this world needs everyone to be in love (with James Neal).

The Important Details

6:30 PM EST start for this one. FS-TN and 102.5 The Game.