Predators look to tighten playoff grip, visit Red Wings

NHL Hockey

After collecting a pivotal victory over the weekend, the Nashville Predators have a chance to tighten their grip on a playoff spot this week, with a pair of games against the last-place Detroit Red Wings.

The top four teams in each division will make the playoffs this season and the Predators hold a two-point lead over Chicago for fourth place in the Central Division entering Tuesday’s game in Detroit.

Nashville shut out the Blackhawks 3-0 on Saturday for their seventh victory in eight games, and the Predators like to think they’re primed to continue thriving in the playoff race.

“You can tell that the team gets jacked up to play them, whether it’s here or Chicago is a great building to play in as well, and I think that’s a big part of it,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “Right now, if you focus on the now, certainly the standings and the playoff race, they’re a team we’re directly competing with, so I think that brings out some of the best in us.”

The effort featured 41 saves by Juuse Saros and goals from Eeli Tolvanen, Colton Sissons and Luke Kunin.

“We understand how important these games are, especially with these games that are head-to-head to teams that are right neck-and-neck with us,” Sissons said. “We’ve been able to rise to the occasion and not kind of succumb to that pressure and make mistakes all night long. We’re pretty comfortable right now, and we’ve built some confidence over the last few weeks here.”

Saros, who notched his 13th career shutout, has also been quite stingy against the Red Wings. In the last two-game set with Detroit on March 23 and 25, he saved 51 of 52 shots on goal as the Predators scored 2-0 and 7-1 victories.

Nashville is 4-2 against Detroit and will wrap up the eight-game season series Tuesday and Thursday.

The Predators got a little extra rest before their visit to Detroit, with rare back-to-back days off, which have been a rarity this season.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us right now to get a reset,” Hynes said.

Despite their last-place status, the Wings have a winning record at home (9-8-3). They are coming off their best road win of the year, a 5-1 triumph Sunday over defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.

Detroit had lost 17 consecutive regular-season games at Tampa, dating back to February 2011.

“They won the Stanley Cup last year and that’s one of the best teams in the league,” goaltender Thomas Greiss said. “It’s always special to beat those kind of guys.”

The Wings had scored a total of four goals in their previous three games. But Dylan Larkin’s power-play goal with 13 seconds left in the first period put them on top and they seized control with a three-goal flurry late in the second period.

“We haven’t beat these guys much, so having success against them certainly feels good,’ coach Jeff Blashill said. “Especially the fact they’re as good a team as they are, the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“But in the end, for me, it’s about playing the right way and how the process of it went. Our process was pretty good.”

–Field Level Media

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