Both the Predators and the Panthers will look to salvage a win from their back-to-back weekend after losing last night.
Florida dropped a 5-3 decision to St. Louis, being victimized by Jaden Schwartz's return to action. Nashville, though able to overcome a 2-1 deficit to force a 3-2 lead. That didn't last, however, and like so many times this season the Predators found themselves on the wrong end of an overtime decision.
Points are at a premium, and the Predators need to take two from the Panthers here by any means necessary.
The Florida Panthers
No one wanted to believe in the Panthers, but here they are.
In the middle of February, the Cats sit five points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings for first in the Atlantic division. They own one of the highest goal differentials in the league, posting a +30 which is only behind the ridiculous Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars.
Their underlying numbers suggest they may be playing above their pay grade. They're 21st in score adjusted possession, while owning the third highest 5v5 on ice save percentage so far this season. Thank Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya for that. At 36, Luongo is putting up numbers that have him in conversation for the Vezina race. The last time he played this well he took the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final. Montoya, to his credit, is having his best professional career even though he's not being leaned on as much. That doesn't really matter though, because he's answered the bell just about every time he's been called one.
Hmm, must be nice to have a backup that's actually utilized.
One forward you don't hear a whole lot about is 22-year-old Vincent Trochek. The Pittsburgh native only has 125 games to his credit, but is tied with Aleksander Barkov with 35 points, and just a few behind the team lead. He'll be part of Florida's core going forward, and is likely going to get a nice extension at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, combined 75-year-olds Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen are pacing the team in scoring, because Ponce de Leon never told anybody the Fountain of Youth is located in the equipment room of BB&T Center. Explains a lot. (Jonathan Huberdeau is actually tied with them, but he ruins the joke.)
Florida is probably going to make the playoffs, which would be an incredible feat for this team with how many naysayers there were at the beginning of the year. This season was almost a make or break one, given they've only qualified for the postseason once since 2000. Those possession metrics would make me nervous were I a Panthers fan, but I also wouldn't past them to upset an opponent in the first round. Let's just all hope and pray that match up include Tampa Bay.
When J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov scored about two minutes apart, you could feel that sinking feeling around Nashville. Here we go again, you thought. So many times this season the team has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, or found a way to make their path to the final horn one full of complications.
Then James Neal and Filip Forsberg themselves scored in quick and gorgeous succession, putting their team ahead. It was an example of a type of resiliency we haven't seen from this team in recent weeks, and it sure looked like everything was coming up Nashville. But the Hockey Gods just aren't on the Predators side this year, evidenced by Viktor Arvidsson going to the box for a "slash" on a Colin Wilson stick lift. Steven Stamkos did Steven Stamkos things with 26 seconds left, and there wasn't a prayer in overtime.
Anish mentioned this last night, but really think about this for a second: Nashville has gone past regulation 12 times this year. Of those 12, nine have been decided in overtime, while three have been decided in the shootout. Their shootout record is 2-1 (a coin flip anyway), while their overtime record is a horrendous 1-8. One. And. Eight.
Only once in nine tries have the Predators wrestled that extra point out of 3-on-3, and the first time didn't come until January 2nd against Carolina, which was their seventh try of the season. That's eight more points in the standings they could have, putting them comfortably between St. Louis and Colorado with 67 point. Even if they won half the OT games they've squandered, they're still a point ahead of the Avalanche and seven up on the Wild.
Those are going to come back and haunt them big time.
Reasons to Watch
- Second String Showdown. Cater Hutton and Al Montoya are probable starters tonight, since Rinne and Luongo both put in their time yesterday. For Hutton, it's a no brainer since they wouldn't go an entire Dad's Trip without seeing him play. It'll also be a nice way to showcase what he can do, maybe even Incepting the coaching staff with the idea to give him the crease a little more, rather than trade for a goalie they don't need.
- This will be the 56th game of the season. This will only be Hutton's ninth start.
- For the second time this season, you can cling to your photoshops of Barkov in a Predators jersey and wonder what would have been had Nathan MacKinnon been available for the Lightning or Panthers to take.