Peter Laviolette has taken a Nashville Predators club that missed the playoffs the previous two seasons under the only coach it had ever known and turned it into a viable contender in his first season.
Bob Hartley didn’t conjure up that immediate success when he was named Calgary’s coach in 2012, but he may be a few victories away from guiding the Flames to their first postseason berth in six years.
The playoff-bound Predators seek a fifth straight win while trying to avoid a three-game season sweep at the hands of the visiting Flames on Sunday.
Nashville (47-21-8) made seven postseason appearances under former coach Barry Trotz, who was behind the bench for the franchise’s first 15 seasons in the NHL.
Back-to-back disappointing finishes led the Predators to make a change, and in stepped Laviolette, who won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and guided Philadelphia to the 2010 Cup finals before being fired three games into last season.
The Predators have been one of the league’s biggest surprises in 2014-15 behind Calder Trophy candidate Filip Forsberg and goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Forsberg had a goal and two assists and Rinne made 25 saves in a 4-3 win over Trotz’s Washington Capitals on Saturday despite playing without defenseman Shea Weber, who is day to day with a lower-body injury.
The victory clinched a playoff berth for Nashville, which sits atop the Central Division and trails Anaheim by one point with a game in hand for the most in the Western Conference.
"Everybody in our division wins every night, so we’ve got to keep winning, keep playing," Laviolette said. "We’ve got another one (Sunday). By the time we get to the plane, we’ve got to be thinking about (Sunday) because Calgary is pretty hungry."
That’s understandable considering the Flames (40-28-7) haven’t been to the playoffs since Mike Keenan’s squad lost to Chicago in 2009. Hartley is trying to help change that, but Calgary has gone just 2-3-2 over its last seven after Friday’s 4-2 loss at Minnesota.
The Flames trail Los Angeles by a slim margin for third place in the Pacific and are three points back of Winnipeg for the West’s final wild-card spot.
"We have to win. It’s plain and simple. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that one out," Hartley told the team’s official website. "We knew the effort (Friday) wasn’t good enough. I think our team has been pretty resilient bouncing back all year. There’s still tons of hockey left."
Markus Granlund scored as the Flames opened a five-game trip, but he didn’t practice Saturday because of the flu and his status for this contest is unclear.
"There’s seven games left, and if we don’t win five or six it’ll probably hurt our chance to make it, but we’ve got to take it game by game," center Mikael Backlund said. "We got to play with some desperation now."
As good as Rinne has been this season, the Flames have been able to solve him twice. Mark Giordano had a goal and an assist in Calgary’s 3-2 shootout win Oct. 14, while Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan each had those same numbers in a 4-3 victory Oct. 31.
It’s unclear, tough, if Rinne, who is winless with a 3.83 goals-against average in his last three against Calgary, will be in net for this matchup.
Jonas Hiller will get the nod for the Flames. He’s 2-4-0 with a 3.24 GAA in eight career starts in Nashville.