Predators focus on seeding as Isles try to stay alive
What the Nashville Predators couldn’t do on their own Sunday in St. Louis, the Arizona Coyotes took care of later that night in Los Angeles.
Needing a point to seal a Western Conference playoff berth, Nashville fell 4-1 to the Blues. But Arizona took care of Los Angeles 2-1, eliminating the Kings from the playoff picture and ushering the Predators into their third straight playoff appearance.
With the pressure of making the postseason erased, Nashville’s main concern over the season’s final week is positioning itself for its best possible chance of playoff success. To that end, its final regular-season home game Tuesday night with the New York Islanders is critical.
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At 40-28-11, the Predators stand two points behind St. Louis for third place in the Central Division and a point in back of Calgary for the conference’s first wild card. The Blues have a game in hand and a favorable schedule, as they don’t face a single playoff team this week.
But Nashville has a better shot to overtake the Flames, who play their last three games in California against Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. If the Predators can improve from the second wild card to the first, they would avoid a first-round clash with the conference’s top team, Chicago, which has beaten them in four of five games this season.
“We don’t care how it happens,” Nashville captain Mike Fisher said of clinching a playoff berth. “No one will remember that two days from now as long as you’re in. Playing hard going into the playoffs is the main focus.”
While the Predators know they are assured of lacing up the skates next week, New York (37-29-12) is hanging by a thread in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders are five points behind Toronto and Ottawa for the final spot, and both teams have a game in hand on them.
New York basically has to win out, a task made even more difficult by the loss of its best player, John Tavares, to a season-ending hamstring injury, and hope for lots of help. The Islanders were able to take care of their business Sunday in Buffalo, taking a 4-2 decision behind two goals from Anders Lee.
“Obviously, when you’re missing Johnny, it’s a tough scenario,” New York interim coach Doug Weight said. “But the guys kind of bought in to what we were talking about and everybody’s got to pick up the slack.”
One player who has picked up slack — before and after Tavares’ injury — is rookie Josh Ho-Sang. Since being called up from AHL Bridgeport 17 games ago, Ho-Sang has four goals and 10 points. He tallied at Buffalo on a breakaway.
It’s not known who will go in the net for New York Tuesday night. Thomas Greiss has carried the load most of the season, but Jaroslav Halak won Sunday and is 3-1-0 since returning from Bridgeport last month.
Pekka Rinne figures to go back between the pipes for Nashville after posting a 30-save shutout Saturday over Minnesota.
The teams played on March 27 in Brooklyn, with the Predators earning a 3-1 win as Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen potted goals.