Late Wednesday night, after a much needed day off, the Nashville Predators players were spread all over Smashville as they clinched a spot in the NHL playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons without even taking the ice.
By virtue of Anaheim' 3-1 regulation win over San Jose, the Preds were put in the position where no other team could mathematically eliminate them from the post-season. In reality, it had been a foregone conclusion that Nashville would be in the playoffs for quite a while but putting the math behind them was one of many steps that the team has wanted to accomplish this season.
The Predators are currently in fifth place in the Western Conference, a point behind Detroit and three points ahead of Chicago. Realistically, these three teams are the only ones with a chance to exchange slots in the middle of the pack down the stretch.
Nashville will play the Wings in Detroit on Friday night and then turn around and host Chicago on Saturday. Next week they will have home games against the struggling Minnesota Wild and Dallas, who is fighting for the Pacific Division title, before going to Denver to play an Avalanche team that needs to win out to make the playoffs.
The Predators are in dire need of as many wins as they can muster in an attempt to get past Detroit and secure the home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Detroit is the most likely first round opponent and the Wings are 30-5-2 in their barn while being a very below average 16-21-3 on the road.
The Preds have the second best point total in the Western Conference on the road with 43 (Vancouver has 50 road points) but the road gets much more difficult in a playoff environment
The Predators were very hot during the middle part of the season but have suffered from a difficult schedule and injuries, going 8-6-1 since the NHL trade deadline. Since January, the team has assimilated five new NHL players and has an active roster of an unheard of 27 players that are fighting for minutes on the ice.
Three of their injured players will return on the ice on Friday in Detroit when Marty Erat, Jordin Tootoo, and Roman Josi are expected to be ready to play. This will make the battle for ice time even more difficult for those borderline players.
It is imperative at this point, that the team find another gear and make the last five games of the season basically a pre-playoff tune-up so that they will be ready to play well into the spring which has been the team goal since last year's second round loss to Vancouver.
Pending free agents Ryan Suter and Shea Weber have been vocal about "management" showing commitment by adding the needed people and David Poile has fortified the roster with more talent that has ever been on the ice in Smashville that was capped by pulling Alexander Radulov out of his magical black hat.
On Friday, as Barry Trotz takes his second shot at his 500th win as a head coach, it is time for the players on the ice to follow through with their part and perform as expected as they start what all hope is a long run into June.
It's time for Shea Weber to throw away the razor and start his playoff beard because the postseason starts now for the Nashville Predators.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass