Predators, Panthers play high-stakes game

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Nashville Predators have already set a franchise record with 113 points.

Now the Predators (51-17-11), who visit the Florida Panthers (40-30-8) on Tuesday night at the BB&T Center, have their sights set on a new goal.

With three games remaining, they have a chance to win their first Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team that leads the NHL in points.

A Predators win on Tuesday would also give them their first division title in franchise history, taking the Central.

Filip Forsberg, a 23-year-old center from Sweden, leads the Predators with 61 points in 64 games. Even though he has missed 11 games with a hand injury and three because of a suspension, he is within four points of breaking his previous career best in that category.

“I want to be one of those guys who makes a difference for my team,” Forsberg told The Tennessean. “That doesn’t have to be on the scoreboard, but I’m more than happy if it is.”

While the Predators are happy, the Panthers are nervous because what was a 75 percent probability of a playoff berth just two weeks ago is now a long shot.

According to hockeyreference.com, the Panthers were down to just a 6.7 percent chance of making the playoffs before Monday’s thrilling 3-2 win over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.

Defenseman Alex Petrovic scored the go-ahead goal with 7:58 left in the third period to key the win at the BB&T Center. It was just his second goal of the season.

“It doesn’t come too often,” Petrovic said of his goal. “But it was a big goal and a big win. We’re trying to get some wins in the last week of the regular season. We have to keep pushing.”

Certainly, it should help that the Panthers will be back at the BB&T Center on Tuesday. The Panthers are 13-3 in their past 16 games at home.

Another trend in Florida’s favor is that, since the All-Star break, it leads the NHL in points by defensemen.

Normally, the Panthers get defensemen points from Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson.

On Monday, however, it was Petrovic and rookie MacKenzie Weegar. Weegar’s goal was the second of his career and his first since Oct. 20.

“It has been awhile since I scored,” Weegar said. “(Jared McCann) made a heads-up play, dropped the puck back to me, and I put it in the back of the net. I was happy to contribute.”

The Panthers will take it because they need every victory they can get. This was Florida’s 40th win of the season, just the fifth time in franchise history they reached that milestone.

The win also gave the Panthers 88 points, five behind the idle New Jersey Devils in the battle for the last wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Florida has four games left in the regular season. New Jersey has three.

“It’s very intense,” Weegar said of the playoff race. “We are fighting for every inch. We’re not going to stop until the last game.”