The Stanley Cup playoffs await the Nashville Predators.
All they need is a road win Wednesday over a Columbus Blue Jackets team they’ve beaten six times in seven meetings, and a regulation loss by the Dallas Stars against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Predators will clinch the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division.
They also know full well they need to finish games with authority, something they did not do Monday night in Columbus when they blew a 3-0 third-period lead against the last-place Blue Jackets, escaping with a 4-3 overtime win on captain Roman Josi’s goal.
“This time of year, like the playoffs, you may not play your best game (or) you may be in a situation like (Monday) where you have the lead, and we gave the lead back into a tie game,” Predators head coach John Hynes said. “But I think the most important thing is obviously, you have to find ways to win. I think there are a lot of good lessons we can take out of (Monday’s) game.”
Nashville (29-22-2, 60 points) continues to dominate the all-time series against Columbus (16-25-12, 44 points), winning 65 of the 94 meetings.
The Predators have earned a point in 19 of their last 25 games (18-6-1), a stretch that started with a 4-1 victory at Tampa Bay on March 15.
At the same time Nashville was salvaging Monday’s game, the Florida Panthers edged the fifth-place Dallas Stars, 5-4, in overtime, allowing the Predators to gain a valuable point in the standings and inch closer to the postseason.
“We’ll take the two points,” Hynes added. “As we know, winning at this time of year is the most important thing. Our process wasn’t as good as it needs to be, and it’s on all of us to make sure our process is going to be better the next time we play and give us a better opportunity to get two points.”
The Blue Jackets are in a much different late-season race, the race to escape the cellar in the Central Division. Emil Bemstrom’s first career hat trick in the third period Monday allowed Columbus to gain a point and draw to within one point of Detroit for seventh place.
“I’m just happy that I scored some goals,” said Bemstrom, who entered Monday night without a goal this season. “I’m proud of myself that I could get a hat trick in this league.”
The Blue Jackets have 12 overtime losses in their 53 games, second in the NHL to Dallas (14).
“You’ve got to be happy about that for the guys, but it just gets old,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said of his team dropping another overtime game. “That’s 12 of them for us. We haven’t been able to do it in overtime or the shootout. It’s frustrating. I’m happy we answered (the 3-0 deficit), I’m happy for the kid (Bemstrom), (goalie) Elvis Merzlikins gives us a chance. We played a lot of good minutes. But it’s the same thing, losing in OT.”
After Wednesday’s game with Nashville, the Blue Jackets finish the season and their four-game homestand with a pair of games Friday and Saturday against Detroit.
–Field Level Media