Winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal for the Nashville Predators, but the franchise’s first division title is within reach with six games left.
There are two teams that can realistically catch the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference standings, and one of them resides in their division. As unstoppable as the Predators have been, they have unfinished business in the regular season.
It’s hard to fathom that the Predators, a mainstay in the playoffs most years, have never won a division title. They’re currently five points ahead of the Jets with six games remaining. A comfortable lead, but one that can easily evaporate if the Predators don’t finish strong.
A date with an ascending Sharks team starts this final stretch to win the division. There’s a lot going on with the division race, and the long-awaited signing of Eeli Tolvanen from the KHL.
Distractions are everywhere, but the Predators have to remain focused. No team can match their depth on the roster, which will serve them well in the playoffs. If they continue to play their game and avoid the outside noise, they’ll finish the regular season as division champs.
The Remaining Schedule
It’s nice to know the Predators are already locked into the playoffs considering their remaining schedule. If they were in the situation they were in last season down the stretch, I’d be an emotional mess thinking they would miss the playoffs. They have some formidable foes remaining.
Four of the six remaining games are against teams with 90-plus points, and the Florida Panthers are battling for a final playoff spot. That leaves just the Sabres as what you can consider an “easy” opponent. The other five opponents are all battling for better playoff positioning. The next opponent on the schedule for the Predators is San Jose, a team that still has an outside shot at catching Vegas for a division title of their own.
As for Winnipeg, the road is much easier. You flip the two remaining schedules, and we’re not even having this discussion. They only have one playoff team remaining on their schedule, which is Toronto. The rest of their schedule comes against teams that have already packed it in and thinking about their tee times in a couple weeks. You can expect Winnipeg to finish strong and put plenty of pressure on the Predators to keep winning. This race is critical as neither team wants to travel to the other’s home ice to open a playoff series.
How it plays out
I’m trying not to get overly emotional about this division race. Yes, I’d love to see home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, a division title banner and a Presidents’ Trophy. They would all be nice feathers to put in the cap for Predators fans. However, what concerns me even more is staying healthy over the last six games. Players are already physically drained at this point, leaving more room for injuries. We want that division title and home-ice advantage, but not at the cost of being fresh for the playoffs.
The Predators get San Jose first to open up these last six games. This game is circled for me as the most important remaining game of the regular season. They need to put this division race to rest as soon as possible so that they can shift their focus to bigger things. A win over San Jose drastically increases their odds of winning the division.
Going back to Winnipeg, I see them winning four of their last six. They’ve gradually earned my respect as the Predators’ biggest hurdle in the West, even more so than Vegas. They might even win all six, which will put a lot of heat on the Predators. Regulation losses have to be avoided by the Predators. They need to pile on the points, even if they lose in overtime, to close this thing out. You obviously have to love their chances to do that as they only have four regulation losses over the last two months.
This all ends with the Predators narrowly holding off Winnipeg for the division. I see the Predators finishing at 116 points, a new franchise record, and Winnipeg at 112 points. We’ll see them battle again in the playoffs.