Monday, March 30, 2009

Predators Roll into Columbus in Battle for Sixth Place

The Nashville Predators are set to play the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena Tuesday at 6 p.m. The Predators are flying high after a huge come from behind win at Detroit on Sunday.

A week ago, no one could have imagined that this game would be a battle for sixth place in the West. The Predators have had points in their last eight games going 5-0-3 in that span. Columbus is coming off back to back losses to St Louis over the weekend.

The Western Conference race now features all five Central division teams in the top eight. Detroit and Chicago’s playoff spots are secure. Columbus is now in sixth place with 86 points. The Preds are two points back at 84 and the surging St Louis Blues are a point further back at 83.

Five teams from the same division have never made the playoffs in the same year, so history could be made with a division most experts considered weak when the year started.

The Predators win against the Wings on Sunday came with a price. Mary Erat received a broken leg when he was struck by a Shea Weber slap shot midway through the game. Erat joins Captain Jason Arnott, David Legwand and Ryan Jones on the injury list.

It is probable that Jones may be the only one of the four that will be able to return during the regular season based on the current prognosis. For most teams, losing four top players would be devastating but the Predators seem to have risen to the occasion.

Steve Sullivan commented on what winning without key players meant after Saturday’s win over the Kings, “It is a real big deal. We would love to have those guys back in the lineup. That being said, there are twenty guys in the lineup that put the jersey on and go to war every night and all have the same goal in mind and that is two points”.

Rookie Cal O’Reilly has been one of the twenty after being recalled last Thursday to replace Legwand. He has played well in three games, picking up a goal and an assist while centering the team’s second line.

Mike Santorelli was recalled from Milwaukee of the AHL on Monday to fill Erat’s slot. Santorelli has 27 goals and 43 assists with the Admirals and posted a hat trick in his last game on Sunday night. He played an uneventful six games with the Preds earlier this year.

Since the All-Star break in January, the Preds are 18-7-5 and appear to be a team of destiny. Barry Trotz truly deserves to be considered for coach of the year honors if the under-manned Predators hold on and return to the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

After Tuesday’s showdown in Columbus, the Preds travel to Chicago for a game Friday night before heading back to the Sommet Center Saturday night for return match with Columbus.

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass and the Columbia Daily Herald

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