Preview/Game Thread: Nashville Predators vs. Florida Panthers 4/26/21: The End is Nigh

Nashville begins the penultimate full week of regular-season hockey with a matchup with the Panthers.

The Nashville Predators return home to Bridgestone Arena tonight after a three-game week, all of those coming against the Chicago Blackhawks. Awaiting them will be the Florida Panthers, who continue to fight with the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning for the top seed in the Central Division. With the amount of games left being sparse enough that you can count them on two hands, both of these clubs desperately need the two points at stake.

The Panthers

Head Coach Joel Quenneville and his Cats are 5-2-1 in their past seven games; the two-game splits against the Lightning and Hurricanes that Florida has had in the past week shows how hotly contested that one-seed is in the Central. While the Predators have looked much better in recent games, you don’t have to be a non-biased observer to understand why a team would rather face Nashville than Carolina or Tampa in the first round. With five games against the Preds’, Hawks and Stars before a final series against the Bolts, Florida will be looking to secure as many points as possible before facing the Lightning.

Alexsander Barkov leads the Panthers in goals this year with 22, and he will be coming into Music City hot. The Finnish center has four goals in his last three games, featuring an  overtime winner over the ‘Canes in his last outing. In the last game between Nashville and Florida on March 20, Barkov opened the scoring in a 2-0 victory for the Panthers; if there is one player that the Predators need to shut down, it’s him.

On the season, Florida leads the season series against the Preds’ with a record of 4-1-1. While the overtime winner over the Panthers was one of the most exciting wins of the season for Nashville, the team has had little success besides that. The one win the Predators  have in regulation over Florida was a 2-1 from Juuse Saros on March 18. With Saros still playing well, Nashville will need another strong performance from the Finnish goaltender to shut down Florida’s firepower.

The Predators

Over the past week, Nashville has seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Opening the games against Chicago on Monday with a strong 5-2 victory, and then leading the Blackhawks 4-1 in the third period of the second game on Wednesday, things seemed to be heading in the direction of a season sweep over the rival Hawks. Then, after a few poorly aged Tweets, Nashville blew its’ lead and eventually lost to Chicago in overtime. The Predators wrapped up their week with a gritty win in the Windy City, and with a final 7-0-1 record against Chicago this year. Not too shabby.

Saros remains the key force in this surprising playoff push from Nashville; he’s given up more than four goals only three times in the month of April, and his ability to keep the opposing offense in check has allowed the Predators forwards to figure things out on their end. With the impending addition of Filip Forsberg to the lineup once he returns from injury,  Nashville could finally have an offense that can match its’ goaltenders’ success.

Three Keys to the Game

  1. Shut down Barkov- With the amount of scoring the top center for Florida has been producing recently, it should come as no surprise that Nashville needs to try and limit his impact on the game. While Florida has a balanced attack that uses all six top fowards to put pucks in the net, erasing Barkov makes the job of handling the rest of the lineup much easier.
  2. Keep Johansen rolling- Ryan Johansen had a point in each of the three games against Chicago this past week. Unless Forsberg is ready to go tonight, another productive outing from the centerman would be helpful.
  3. Wait until the game is over to Tweet about the result- Seems self-explanatory.

Where to Watch/ Listen

Tonight’s game can be watched on Bally Sports at 8:00 EST and 7:00 CST. You can also listen to the game on 102.5 The Game.