After a troubling month of February for the Nashville Predators, the team has found themselves in familiar territory near the playoff bubble with 32 games left.
Plenty of time to get back on track, but also plenty of time to fall completely out altogether. It’s that close of a race in the Western Conference with the Predators just three points from being outside the current playoff picture.
The Predators get no break in the schedule tonight as they’ll face arguably the best team in the NHL, the Florida Panthers. A team that’s second in the standings in points with 75, and the highest-scoring team at over four goals per game.
So which teams should you expect to be battling alongside the Predators for the two wildcard spots? Yes, it’s still possible that the Predators could get hot again and push back into the top-three, but it seems like wishful thinking at this point.
The Ducks have been sneaky good all year. They appear to be a season or two away from really competing for a Stanley Cup, but they have plenty of young playmakers that can allow them to snag a playoff spot.
The Predators are just three points ahead of the Ducks in the first wildcard position going into Tuesday night’s action. The Ducks have played two more games than the Predators, and have been all over the board from game to game.
Last game the Ducks won 7-4 over the Canucks, but before that dropped three games in a row by a combined score of 17-8.
The Ducks and Predators have two more meetings against each other coming up in March. Expect these two be two critical matchups for both teams to acquire a stronger position in the hunt for the playoffs.
Troy Terry has turned into one of the more electrifying goal scorers in the entire NHL, so watch out for him to keep the Ducks in games down the stretch. The big question surrounding the Ducks is they’re not very deep and might not be ready to make this jump into the playoffs.
Either way, they’ll be a team the Nashville Predators will likely be contending with for a playoff spot.
As for the Kings, they are a team in my opinion that have the roster to stick around until the end and even make some noise in the first round of the playoffs. They have plenty of reliable veterans and young talent to be a dark horse.
The Kings currently sit in the second wildcard position just one point behind the Predators. They’re also tied with the Oilers for a top three spot in the Pacific Division, and even more impressively not completley out of the race for the division crown.
Even though that division race is closer than the Central Division, I still think it’s a three-team race between the Oilers, Flames and Golden Knights for the top spot. The Kings will stick around in the wildcard hunt.
I won’t be surprised at all if the Kings end up being a team that finishes ahead of the Predators and steal a playoff berth over them. The Kings have reliable goaltending, balanced scoring and relatively strong defensively being in the top half of the league in goals against per game.
The Kings face the Predators one more time this regular season towards the end of March. A game to circle a month from now as a really important one for both teams. The Predators have already won the first two meetings, holding the Kings to three goals in those two games.
Oh the Dallas Stars. The team that just won’t go away. Their window is closing fast after this season, so it’s going to be very interesting to see what their trade deadline approach ends up being.
However, they’ve surged up the division standings a bit lately and are only four points behind the Predators with a monumental matchup later this week on a night that Pekka Rinne will have his jersey lifted up to the Bridgestone Arena rafters.
Emotions always run high when these two teams meet, and last season the Predators got the better of the Stars by winning numerous games in overtime to keep the Stars out. Let’s hope they don’t return the favor this season.
The Stars honestly scare me more than any other team in terms of keeping the Predators out of the postseason. Way more than the previously mentioned Kings and Ducks. They have the quality talent to be much better than their current record.
The Predators absolutely have to take care of business this Thursday and keep the Stars at bay in th standings. It’s getting way too close for comfort. The season series between the two teams is tied 1-1 with two matchups left.
Much like the Stars, the Jets have underperformed so far this season but are still right in the mix. They beat the Nashville Predators earlier this month rather convincingly and have won the season series 2-1.
The Jets are definitely one of those teams that’s barely hanging on from being full-on sellers at the trade deadline, but could also decide to be buyers as well.
Although it’s probably unlikely, I’m still not ready to fully discount the Jets as a competitor to the Predators’ playoff chances. The Jets have plenty of talent, including Kyle Connor who has 29 goals on the season and Pierre-Luc Dubois with 21 goals, to hang around until the very end.
The Jets have somewhat of a soft schedule over the next month which should allow them to pile up some points and remain in the wildcard race. In the end, I think the Predators stay narrowly ahead of them.
Final Verdict on the Nashville Predators
It’s the Stars and Kings I’m most worried about finishing ahead of the Predators and making this the first season of missing the playoffs since 2013-14, Barry Trotz’s last season behind the bench in Nashville.
You also can’t overlook the fact that GM David Poile might decide to get aggressive at the trade deadline and add a big time player to push this team over the hump, but I’m not crazy about that idea. If they’re going to be buyers, it needs to be on the cautious side and avoid the rental players.
It’s fair to say that the Nashville Predators have been exposed a bit this month against the top tier teams, and it’ll come down to battling with other middle-of-the-road teams to get back into the postseason.
Give me the Nashville Predators narrowly making the playoffs with the final wildcard spot along with the Kings as the other representative. That likely would mean an enormous hill to climb in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche.