Coming off their biggest victory of the season, the Nashville Predators will look to solidify their playoff position when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night.
Erik Haula scored 3:32 into overtime on Saturday to give the Predators (28-22-2, 58 points) a crucial 1-0 victory over the Dallas Stars. Nashville leads Dallas by three points for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division, with the Stars holding a game at hand over the Predators.
Saturday’s game had all the intensity of a postseason matchup, with Juuse Saros (28 saves) outdueling Stars goalie Anton Khudobin (33 saves on 34 shots) through 63:32 of hockey.
It was an impressive effort for Saros, who allowed six goals on 55 shots in Nashville’s previous game, a 7-4 loss to the Florida Panthers on April 27. Saros has played virtually every minute of the Predators’ past 10 games, and he likely will keep starting in net until a playoff berth is clinched.
The Predators are 4-1-1 in their past six games.
On paper, the Predators have a clear opportunity at four points heading into two road games vs. the last-place Blue Jackets. However, Nashville coach John Hynes is guarded against any letdown following his team’s big win over Dallas.
“This is the National Hockey League, and if you’re not prepared mentally and physically to play the way that you need to play, then you may not win hockey games,” Hynes said. “Our job right now is we accomplished the mission (Saturday), but we have a big week ahead of us. … You can be too high with this one, but it’s not going to do us well.”
Columbus (16-25-11, 43 points) also is coming off a strong effort in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. Though 32 points separate the Jackets and the first-place Hurricanes in the standings, the clubs played evenly before Dougie Hamilton scored on a breakaway 4:07 into overtime.
Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins was visibly upset after the deciding score, acknowledging that he “snapped” out of frustration since his team “deserved to win.”
“I almost got (Hamilton’s shot). I was really upset with myself about that. … What I’ve learned in this league, you have to just let it go,” Merzlikins said.
The Jackets have only nine goals in Merzlikins’ past six games, so the goaltender has a 1-2-2 record in that stretch despite a .945 save percentage.
Backup Matiss Kivlenieks and possibly prospect Daniil Tarasov are likely to play at least once in the Blue Jackets’ last four games, but Merzlikins is expected to start on Monday.
The Blue Jackets are 1-7-3 in their past 11 games. The past three games (1-0-2) have all gone beyond regulation time.
Viktor Arvidsson (upper-body injury) and Nick Cousins (non-COVID illness) didn’t play Saturday and are questionable for Nashville’s Monday lineup.
Patrik Laine (non-COVID illness) is questionable for the Blue Jackets after missing Saturday’s game.
Special teams could be an advantage for the Jackets, who are 47-for-52 in penalty kills over their past 21 games. Nashville is 1-for-29 on the power play in its last 12 games.
The Predators are 5-1-0 in six previous meetings with the Blue Jackets. The two teams will conclude their season series on Wednesday night in Columbus.
–Field Level Media