After an important 4-1 over the Lightning on Sunday, the Nashville Predators make their way down to Miami to prepare for a game against the Florida Panthers. Tonight they will have another opportunity to not only reduce the Presidents’ Trophy magic number, but also to clinch their first Central Division and Western Conference titles in franchise history.
The Panthers found themselves in the playoff race late in the season this year, but losses in 3 of their last 4 have made that an almost impossible feat. Not only do they need to win all 4 of their remaining games—against Nashville, Buffalo, and Boston twice—but they also need either the Flyers or Devils to lose their remaining games against easier competition. Because it is still a possibility, at least for tonight, the Panthers will be bringing their A+ game.
The typical first line of Dadonov-Barkov-Bjugstad have combined for 184 points, tallying 61, 77, and 46 points respectively. The Huberdeau-Trochek-McGinn line is also nothing to scoff at, and all but two of their bottom 6 players have at least 20 points. Defensively, the top pairing of Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad has bloomed into not only one of the more enjoyable pairings to watch, but also one of the better defensive duos in the NHL. Matheson, Pysyk, Weegar, and Petrovic can typically hold their own, but this Nashville Predators squad is not necessarily at the same talent spread as the typical NHL roster.
In goal, the Panthers will likely put the man behind one of the greatest twitter accounts in net. If that doesn’t give it away, how about the only goalie in recent years to arguably play worse in the SCF than Nashville’s own Pekka Rinne. Roberto Luongo has long since moved on from his 8 goals allowed in Game 3, and the 38 year old is putting up decent numbers with a 2.55 goals allowed average and .926 save percentage. (Also, early congratulations to Bobby Lou for playing in his 999th career game and likely hitting the 1000-game milestone before the end of the season.)
After a dominant performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Predators can use tonight’s game to prove to the doubters that they still deserve to be the favorites to win the entire thing. Not only that, but they can also continue to move closer to ensuring home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, no matter who their opponent ends up being.
Filip Forsberg has 13 points in his last 10 games, with a +/- of 9 in those contests. Craig Smith has a point in each of the last three games, and he is 1 goal, 3 assists and 4 points from matching his single-season career high numbers in those stats. If both Smith and Fiala can add two more points to their totals in the final 3 games of the regular season, the Nashville Predators will have seven 50 point scorers.
Tonight’s lines, according to the morning skate, are as follows
#Preds a.m. skate lineup:— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) April 3, 2018
Hartnell, Arvidsson (lower-body)
The good news here is that the lines have not been put through the blender for tonight’s game. The JoFS line that scored all 4 of the Preds goals against Tampa gets to try their luck at terrorizing the Panthers D and Luongo. Kyle Turris and Kevin Fiala get the welcome addition of Ryan Hartman to their line, and Bonino and Sissons get another game with the new kid. The Salomaki-Fisher-Watson is another 4th line combination meant to bruise, dump and chase.
Scott Hartnell is tonight’s healthy scratch, but perhaps the best news of all is that both Viktor Arvidsson and Yannick Weber are participating in morning skates, while Calle Jarnkrok continues to nurse his collarbone back to full health.
With Saros playing Sunday, it is likely going to be Rinne in net tonight. A bounce back game from Pekka can more or less cement his deserving Vezina Trophy victory, assuming the voters have watched the second half of the season and paid attention to Western Conference teams.
Game of Thrones Equivalent
The Predators will probably not have the luxury of coasting through tonight’s game, but they have the chance to all but eliminate their opponent from playoff contention and clinch another milestone, so this GoT scene makes sense. [Not as bloody or gory as the typical scenes, but still here’s your warning about the violence]
Sights & Sounds
Hal and Pete will have the radio call on 102.5 The Game, Willy and Mace will have the TV call on FS-TN, and the puck will drop at 6:30 CT.