WASHINGTON — In the penultimate game of the regular season, the Nashville Predators are still jockeying for playoff position, while the Washington Capitals have a division title and their postseason placement secured.
So, this showdown between two division leaders might not have as much luster as if it had been played in February, but for the Predators, who are seeking the first Central Division crown in club history, it is still a critical contest.
“We’ve clinched a playoff (berth), but there’s still a lot of goals we want to achieve, and it’s good for us that we’re trying to play desperate right now,” Nashville defenseman Roman Josi told the team’s website on Wednesday. “We’re playing for something, and that’s definitely going to help going into playoffs.”
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The Predators were still steaming about Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, in which the apparent game-tying goal by Filip Forsberg in the final second was overturned by a controversial goaltender interference call. Now, with Winnipeg on its tail for the division title, Nashville will have to play tough against the Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday to make some franchise history and potentially snag home-ice advantage in the Western Conference.
“You have to move on,” Forsberg told the team’s website. “You can’t do anything about it now. You just have to play the next game.”
That next game will be against the Capitals, who have surged down the stretch, going 11-2-0 to clinch their third straight Metropolitan Division title. Washington head coach Barry Trotz isn’t planning on using this matchup against Nashville to gauge how his team looks against another title contender, however.
“I don’t think I’d use it as a measuring stick,” Trotz told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “We’ve been weighed and measured all year against teams in our own division.”
Washington is in evaluation mode at this point, mixing and matching lineups to figure out who will be in the plans once the postseason begins. To that end, the team recalled forward Travis Boyd and defenseman Madison Bowey from AHL Hershey on Wednesday.
“Coming back here, I have a lot of confidence and I’m just ready to help the guys out if needed and when I’m called upon,” Bowey said.
Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin crashed into the boards during Monday’s game at the St. Louis Blues, giving the team a slight scare. Ovechkin took a maintenance day on Wednesday and Trotz said the team would “see where he is” before a decision on his playing time.
Washington’s rotating goalie situation will also be addressed on game day. Philipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby are both coming off impressive victories against the Penguins and Blues, respectively, and with Trotz open to playing both during the playoffs, gaining valuable experience against an explosive Predators team could be key.
Nashville figures to start Pekka Rinne in net for this important contest.
“It’s a big test for us, and I think our team always shows up when there’s a big game,” Josi said.