Predators host Panthers in key Central back-to-back

NHL Hockey

The Nashville Predators have struggled all season against teams currently ahead of them in the Central Division standings … particularly, the Florida Panthers.

They hope to change that Monday night in Nashville when they will try to avoid a fifth consecutive home loss to the Panthers in the first of back-to-back meetings.

Nashville (26-21-2, 54 points) holds the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central after going 2-0-1 during three straight games with sixth-place Chicago. The Predators own a five-point lead over the Blackhawks, but just two on fifth-place Dallas, which holds two games in hand.

Now, the Predators host second-place Florida (31-13-5, 67 points), a team Nashville is 2-4 against this season.

Considering that the Predators end the regular season with a pair of games with division-leading Carolina — against whom they are just 0-5-1 this season — Nashville’s playoff hopes figure to rest with their remaining efforts against the best the Central has to offer.

In between those two series, there is a home date with Dallas and two at last-place Columbus.

“We don’t have a lot of time left, and we’re doing a bit of standings watching, but we know we’ve got to take care of business in our end,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said.

“The last few games (against Chicago), we’ve been dialed, we’ve been playing better hockey, more consistently, and hopefully, we can continue with our success.”

The Predators will aim for what would be a season-high fourth consecutive victory at home, where they have won seven of the last nine. They last beat Florida in Nashville on Jan. 20, 2018. The Panthers have outscored the Predators 11-6 while taking the previous two 2020-21 meetings at Nashville.

Florida star Aleksander Barkov, who has scored four of this team-leading 22 goals in the past three games, has three goals with six assists in those six contests with Nashville this season. Barkov scored 24 seconds into overtime Saturday to send the Panthers to their fifth win in seven games, 4-3 over Carolina at home.

“I think Barky’s had a tremendous year, whether it’s controlling shifts or dominating possession,” Florida coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s had some different linemates over the last three weeks, and he still finds ways to be productive.”

The Panthers’ Chris Driedger, who made 16 saves on Saturday for his 13th win of 2020-21, has stopped 45 of 46 shots and posted a shutout in two starts against the Predators this season. Teammate Sergei Bobrovsky, who has 17 victories, owns a 3.47 goals-against average while going 2-1-1 against Nashville in 2020-21.

On the other side, Nashville’s Juuse Saros has 17 wins this season, including one in three starts against Florida (2.66 goals-against average. Teammate Pekka Rinne (2.97 GAA in 2020-21) is 1-3-0 with a 3.92 GAA against the Panthers this year.

The Predators’ Eeli Tolvanen has five goals with seven assists over his last 11 games, but just one point in those six against the Panthers this season. Three of teammate Calle Jarnkrok’s 12 goals have come against Florida.

–Field Level Media

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