It is down to the final three games of the season for the Nashville Predators (42-26-11), starting with the visiting Atlanta Thrashers (33-33-12) at the Bridgestone Arena tonight at 7 p.m.
The Thrashers are one of three Eastern Conference teams that play a home and away series with the Predators. The teams previously met at Phillips Arena on December 6 when the Predators took a 2-0 lead only to fall 3-2 in overtime.
The Predators will have their work cut out for them playing a team with absolutely nothing to lose. The Preds have every thing to gain as a win tonight will clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven NHL seasons.
The Predators have their sights set on much bigger things than their match with the Thrashers but they cannot overlook tonight's game. It will be important for the Preds to strike early and often and not give Atlanta a sniff of an upset.
Atlanta is 5-5 in their last ten and lost on their last game at Boston 3-2. Chris Vivlamore surmises that ex-Pred Chris Mason (13-11-3, 3.26, .898) will start for Atlanta. Mason stopped all 47 shots that he faced in a 1-0 shutout of Philadelphia in his last start. He would like nothing more than to beat his old team and slow their playoff celebration.
Pekka Rinne (31-21-9, 2.13, .929) should get the start for the Predators who are 9-2-1 in their last segment of games. With the Kings collapse and the Bruins meltdown last night, the Preds moved within one goal of second place Boston in the Jennings Trophy race (fewest goals allowed) but are still eight behind Vancouver which seems out of reach at this point.
After tonight's game, the Preds will have two games left. The home finale will be Friday against Columbus who has lost 16 straight to the Preds at the Bridgestone Arena and the final game of the regular season will be in St. Louis on Saturday night.
Other previews come from Amanda DiPaolo, Mark Willoughby, Chris Burton, Robby Stanley, Predatorial, Tennessean, and Predators.com.
For Thrasher previews, check out The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blueland Blog, the Ice Man, Bird Watchers Anonymous, Thrashing the Blues, As the Birds Thrash, Thrasher Backer, and Blueland Chronicle.
In Pred Nation...
Ryan Porth has a masterpiece on Pekka Rinne that he has been working on for a while to round up input from a lot of folks. Check it out.
Pekka Rinne makes the top three in The Hockey News' Vezina picks.
There is a good read by Jim Diamond on the Atlanta - David Poile - Geoffrion connection.
David Boclair points out that Nashville's new crop of "old-timers" has gotten younger.
Bryan Mullen talks with Steve Sullivan, Cal O'Reilly, and Jordin Tootoo who all practiced on Monday. He also looks at whether the Preds will change the lineup if they become available. The Preds are also still chasing the teams immediately in front of them in the standings.
Blake Geoffrion is proud of his family name and discusses it in an AP story at NHL.com.
In a huge upset, David Shoalts, who usually doesn't like anything from Nashville, picks Shea Weber as his Norris trophy pick (if he decides to vote).
Robby at HNIN wants to give a reminder of what happens when you don't finish games.
Fang Faction has an epistle on the Predator's problems finishing games.
Jas Faulkner has her thoughts on the team picture on Monday.
Hockey's Future has unveiled their 41-50, 31-40, and 21-30 prospect rankings. So far, Jon Blum checks in at 21, Ryan Ellis is at 31, and Taylor Beck is at 39.
Admirals Roundtable reports what has been suspected, that Taylor Beck and Michael Latta are headed to Milwaukee.
Around the NHL...
Only two games last night and both were big. The Rangers scored five in a row to beat Boston 5-3 with three goals in the final 3:48 proving Barry Trotz right that the three goal lead is the hardest to hold in the NHL. In the nightcap, San Jose dismantled Los Angeles 6-1 to clinch the Pacific Division crown.
The PHWA issued a strong statement yesterday condemning the NHL for not over-ruling the dismissal of Chris Botta by the Islanders early this season. Three chapters have decided not to participate in the NHL award voting as have many individual voters. PHWA President Kevin Allen offers perspective. Puck Daddy also adds good insight.
Cory Perry, Jerome Iginla, and Jhonas Enroth were the three stars of the week last week in the NHL.
Adrian Dater would like to see Joe Sacco return next season. Dater also has an all encompassing round-up at Versus where he back tracks on his harsh words from last week on the Phoenix situation.
In an odd rant yesterday, Mavs owner Mark Cuban takes on the "paid" internet reporters.
Big programing changes are in store at NHL Home Ice on XM as of April 13. NHL Live is moving to NHL Network and NHL.com exclusively and in the 3:00 to 5:00 PM CDT time slot. In the 11:00 to 1:00 slot, former Maple Leaf GM Gord Stellick will begin a two hour show daily. The Power Play from Wayne Gretzky's will be radio only going forward.
One of my favorite post season awards shows is back. From @XMHomeIce: Hey Folks the 6th Annual Espo Awards are back. Tune in Mon Apr 11th at 4pm Eastern @XMHomeIce @SiriusXMSports for all the coverage
Yesterday's Dreger Report indicated that the Islanders would not release Evgeni Nabokov to play in the World Championships.
From @stevelepore: VERSUS to air a special called "Hockey Across America" on Tuesday (today) after Devils-Pens. Hosted by the well-to-do @liam_mchugh
Somewhat rare these days is for an athlete to talk openly about his faith. That is probably what has made James Reimer stand out from the crowd.
Sports Business Journal has a feature piece on ESPN founder Bill Rasmussen and the sports channel's humble beginnings.
Icethetics has playoff logos from around the NHL including an interesting one for the Panthers.
Odds and Ends...
The Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, where the NHL Awards will be held for the third consecutive year, was named the number one hotel in sin city by Klout who noted "Our celebrity following and hipster clientele have turned the Palms Casino Resort into one of Las Vegas’ most infamous destinations."
A new app called Creepy can find you anywhere.
For fans of the movie "Into The Wild" the is a new book and video coming out later this Spring called "Back to the Wild" that has more detail about the real story. The family and Wayne Westerberg headed back to the bus last month and here is a clip from the trip.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass