Predators, Stars duel for final Central playoff spot

NHL Hockey

As the final push begins for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division, all of the superlatives are true as the Dallas Stars visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

The Predators (27-22-2, 56 points) hold the coveted fourth and final spot in the division to advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Nashville boasts a two-point edge on the fifth-place Stars (21-17-12, 54 points), although Dallas has a game in hand, with six games left on the schedule to Nashville’s five. This last meeting of the season between the squads can’t be overstated.

“It’s huge. It’s huge for them and it’s huge for us,” Dallas forward Blake Comeau said. “Everyone knows where we stand right now, and we have to expect their best. They know what’s on the line and we know what’s on the line, so it’s important we have one of our best showings of the year.

“They’re going to be a desperate team and we have to match that desperation and clicking on all parts of our games,” Comeau added. “These are the kind of games you want to be in this time of the year. They’re fun to be part of.”

Nashville has won four of the seven meetings so far this season, but all of those victories have come in overtime or via shootout. So while the Predators hold a 4-3-0 record in head-to-head action, the Stars have a 3-0-4 mark.

As well as both teams have played over the last six weeks, they each are looking to bounce back from a defeat.

The Predators dropped a 7-4 home game with the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, while the Stars were blanked 3-0 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and have lost two straight games.

“We’ve got to find ways to get points,” Comeau said. “We want to make it in the playoffs, and if we get in the playoffs, we’re going to have to go through some really good teams to get where we want to be at, and that’s to win the Stanley Cup.”

The Predators, who are 3-1-1 in their last five, blew a third-period lead against the Panthers and surrendered four unanswered goals. They had taken the lead with just 23 seconds remaining in the second period.

“We can go round and round about the game, but at the end of the day, give the Florida Panthers credit. They played a really good game,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “They were better than us in every facet: speed, puck battles, execution, puck pressure. We scored some opportunistic goals, we got great goaltending, but this isn’t the recipe for us to be able to win.

“We weren’t good enough to win the game.”

While the Predators have had a few days to digest that game instead of moving on to the next one, they benefit from the much-needed rest before a key game. It’s an enviable situation with so much on the line.

“We need to move on,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “We need to take some things, we need to learn from it, but move on. We have the biggest game of our year coming up.”

–Field Level Media

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