Predators look for consistency vs. Flames

The current Western Conference wild cards meet Tuesday night in Nashville, each aspiring to be something more than what they are by the time the playoffs start in mid-April.

It’s the first of two critical late-season matchups for the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators, separated by two points in the standings and a lot more than that back in October.

While not much was expected from Calgary before the season started, Nashville was seen as a potential Stanley Cup contender following its blockbuster summer trade of captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban in a straight-up swap of perennial All-Star defensemen.

Instead, the Predators (28-22-8) have struggled to consistently string together wins, hampered by inconsistent play throughout the roster and injuries that’s left their nightly lineup in flux at times. All they have done is hint at their vast potential, as exhibited by a 4-3 win Sunday night in Columbus that completed a season sweep of one of the NHL’s top teams.

“I liked the way we stayed with it and got better as the game went on,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “After the break, and a difficult night last night with the travel and getting in when we did and early start today, we played better hockey as the game went on. Just resilient.”

Playing less than 24 hours after a 5-2 loss in Minnesota, the Predators received 35 saves from Juuse Saros and a tiebreaking goal from Mattias Ekholm just before the third period’s mid-point.

They’ll start a crucial four-game homestand against the Flames (29-26-4), who have been outscored by 14 goals on the season but have propelled themselves into contention behind balanced, if not spectacular, scoring.

They have seven players with double-digit goals, led by 19 from Sean Monahan, whose next tally will give him 100 in less than four full seasons. While their big offseason acquisition, former St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott, has struggled with a save percentage of .898, Chad Johnson has offered a big boost with some of the best play of his career.

Calgary opened a big five-game road trip with a bitter 2-1 overtime loss against Vancouver Saturday night. After tying the game with six seconds left in regulation via captain Mark Giordano’s eighth goal of the season, the Flames conceded Christopher Tanev’s first goal 34 seconds into the extra period.

“At this point in the season, you will take points wherever you can get them,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “But throughout the entire game, we had opportunities to put ourselves in a better position to get two points.”

Calgary made a move Monday to solidify a defense corps that has been of concern to its coaching staff and management, acquiring Michael Stone from Arizona for a third-round pick in this year’s draft and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2018.

Stone has a goal and eight assists in 45 games, averaging 20:13 of ice time, and is a pending unrestricted free agent. Reports have the Coyotes paying half his salary for the season’s remainder.

Nashville won the teams’ only previous meeting this season, surviving a late three-goal outburst in the final four minutes to take a 4-3 victory Jan. 19 in the Saddledome.