Nashville Predators: Seize the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Don’t Back In

Nashville Predators players celebrate after the game-winning goal by Nashville Predators left wing Erik Haula (56) in overtime against the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators players celebrate after the game-winning goal by Nashville Predators left wing Erik Haula (56) in overtime against the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

We’ve reached the last two-game road trip of the season for the Nashville Predators as they’ll take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, which is a team that has nothing to play for but pride.

The Predators can’t have any mental lapses in this game. Teams love to play spoilers, and those Columbus players will be coming in ready to spoil our Monday nights.

One theme that the Predators have played with since the middle of March, and what has fueled this surge towards the playoffs, is playing with a chip on your shoulder. They can’t play Columbus feeling like their work is done, because it’s definitely not.

After what should be a two-game sweep for the Predators, we’ll wrap up this 56-game regular season with two home games against our kryptonite; the Carolina Hurricanes. You can’t go into those two games in must-win mode. The Hurricanes absolutely own the Predators this season, and they still have a lot to play for with the division title on the line.

The Predators got the gutsy and entertaining 1-0 overtime win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night, and now control their own playoff destiny. That was one of the most intense regular season games I can remember watching the Predators play, and they dug deep to get the win in front of an electric home crowd:

There still remains a lot that can go wrong over these last four games, with Dallas having five games left.

A favorable remaining schedule for the Nashville Predators

The schedule leans in the Predators’ favor thanks to these two games against Columbus, while the Stars have to face the Florida Panthers on Monday night and then face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a two-game set.

The Stars have have a combined record against Tampa Bay and Florida of 3-7-3 this season, with four regulation losses to Tampa Bay. If current trends continue, then the Predators should be able to really separate themselves from the Stars over the next two games against the Blue Jackets:

The last thing I want to see, other than obviously missing the playoffs altogether, is the Predators back into the playoffs thanks to the Stars continuing on their current slump. It won’t be good for team morale if you get in thanks to the Stars losing.

The Predators really need to take care of business against Columbus and not prolong this into the series against the Hurricanes. It would be nice for the Predators to get somewhat of a break against Carolina by already having the playoffs locked up.

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Finally getting full healthy

The Predators are as close to 100 percent healthy as they’ve been since the start of the season. They got Filip Forsberg back on Saturday night in what was a defensive brawl. Look for him to continue to get back into early season form.

Alexandre Carrier and Brad Richardson also returned to the lineup as the Predators got the most critical win of the season to date.

The major piece you’re hoping to get back now is Dante Fabbro, to replace Erik Gudbranson in the lineup. Fabbro is considered day-to-day and his return would solidify a lineup that was in shambles with injuries but still managed to keep winning.

We need to see Pekka Rinne in at least one of these last four games. Juuse Saros has firmly put himself into the Vezina Trophy conversation, but Rinne needs to start to give Saros a rest in one of these games against Columbus.

You’re finally starting to see all the key players of this team come together to show what this team is capable of not only if they get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but also for the 2021-22 season.

Matt Duchene has been making his presence known with some flashy passing and puck handling to set things up, but he still hasn’t been able to really translate that into scoring. The Predators really need him to stay engaged on that third line that’s also featuring an improving Erik Haula.

With the table set for these final four games and what’s on the line, is it fair to say this has similar feelings to the 2016-17 regular season when the Predators claimed the final playoff spot late and then went on the crazy run to the Stanley Cup Final?

To put it into perspective, the Predators are currently on an 82-game point pace to finish with just over 91 points. During the 2016-17 season the Predators finished with 94 points in the regular season before sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

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The Predators just need two more wins and two more Dallas losses to lock up a playoff spot. Assuming the Predators don’t let up and overlook the Blue Jackets, it’s conceivable that we could be talking playoffs before the Carolina series to wrap up the regular season.