Predators, Stars meet in Central Division clash

DALLAS — The Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars both aspire to rank among the Central Division elite, a shared goal that ensures Tuesday’s game at American Airlines Center will be an entertaining divisional tilt.

Nashville (17-7-3) looks to complete a perfect back-to-back after defeating Boston 5-3 at Bridgestone Arena on Monday night. Craig Smith had two goals and an assist and Kyle Turris added two assists for the Predators, who have now won two straight.

“Well, he (Smith) is relentless,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette told Fox Sports Tennessee after Monday’s win over Boston. “He just constantly pursues pucks out there. He’s using his speed to get behind defenses. He’s just a tireless worker right now.”

Dallas, on the other hand, had Monday off after winning 7-2 at Colorado on Sunday, completing their Saturday/Sunday back-to-back with a perfect 2-0 mark. Dallas defeated Chicago 3-2 at home in a shootout on Saturday.

In fact, the Stars (16-10-1) capped a perfect week with the blowout win over the Avalanche at Pepsi Center, going 4-0-0, a week young center Radek Faksa finished with five goals in four games, earning NHL Third Star of the Week honors.

Against Colorado, Tyler Seguin had two goals for Dallas, who has now won five consecutive games, while Alexander Radulov chipped in two assists.

And after a much-needed day off on Monday, Seguin and the Stars will be ready for the Predators’ best come Tuesday evening.

“They’re one of the top teams in the West and went to the finals last year, obviously,” Seguin said after the win in Colorado on Sunday. “That’s going to be a big game for us. I’m pretty sure it’s the first time we catch a team on a back-to-back. We’ve done it a lot, so let’s take advantage of it.”

The Predators and Stars have already met once this season, on October 12 in Nashville, when the Predators defeated the Stars 4-1 early in the season.

But first-year Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock knows his Stars are a much different team than the one that lost to the Predators the first week of the season, and he welcomes the rematch.

“Well, I’ve said this before, we’re playing the right way. There’s no other way to describe it. We’re not chasing the game up and down the ice, we’re not gambling on 50-50 situations, we’re playing smart,” Hitchcock said. “You play the game the right way, you have enough skill, you give yourself a chance to win games, and that’s what we’re doing.”

With Sunday’s win in Colorado, Dallas is now 4-6-0 in divisional play. And facing the Predators, who are 6-5-2 in the Central, provides the Stars with another excellent chance to improve their divisional mark.

“We’re really looking forward to Nashville. We thought we played a good game in Nashville (in October),” Hitchcock said. “They were ahead of us a little bit in some areas and they’ve got a great team, so we’re looking forward to that challenge. If we continue to play this well, we give ourselves a fighting chance every night.”

Predators coach Peter Laviolette is also eagerly anticipating Tuesday’s divisional battle and knows exactly what to expect every time his club lines up opposite Dallas.

“Well, it’s going to be a tough division game, we know that,” Laviolette said after Monday’s win. “I think every time we play Dallas, especially when we go into Dallas, we know it’s going to be a battle. We’ll get some rest tonight (Monday), we’ll get ready for tomorrow (Tuesday) when it comes, but when that puck drops tomorrow, it’s a division game and those are always good games.”

Monday marked Pekka Rinne’s fourth consecutive start in goal for Nashville, so backup netminder Juuse Saros is the likely starter on Tuesday.

Predators center Ryan Johansen missed Monday’s game with an upper-body injury sustained in Saturday’s shootout win at home against Anaheim. Johansen played just 10:16 against the Ducks and is likely to miss a second straight game on Tuesday in Dallas.

But regardless of who’s in or out for the Predators, defenseman Roman Josi expects another end-to-end game on Tuesday, much like they played Monday night against the Bruins.

“I think it’s going to be a similar kind of game,” Josi said on Monday night. “I thought Boston had a lot of speed. There wasn’t a lot of space out there to make plays. It was tight out there. A lot of fast plays and you had to be quick. I think Dallas plays a lot the same way with a lot of speed. We’ve got to make sure we make quick decisions and good decisions tomorrow (Tuesday).”