Blue Jackets-Predators Preview
Ryan Johansen admits it's going to be strange facing the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first time, though he likely wouldn't trade places.
With his former team now eliminated from the playoffs, Johansen prepares to help the Nashville Predators close in on a postseason spot in Saturday night's matchup with the Blue Jackets.
Both the Predators and Blue Jackets were seeking a spark when Johansen was swapped for 21-year-old defenseman Seth Jones on Jan. 6 in a rare blockbuster midseason trade of emerging stars. Though each has fit in well with his new club, Nashville (38-23-13) has reaped the early rewards in terms of team success.
The Predators, 19-14-7 at the time of the deal, have gone 19-9-6 since with Johansen ably filling a need for a top-line center. They own a six-point lead on Minnesota for the Western Conference's first wild card and sit just two back of slumping Chicago for third in the Central Division.
Nashville gained further ground on the Blackhawks by rallying for a 3-2 shootout win over Vancouver on Thursday, extending its home point streak to nine games (6-0-3). The Predators overcame a 2-0 first-period deficit when James Neal and Filip Forsberg scored 72 seconds apart in the third.
Johansen, who's posted seven goals and 18 assists in 34 games following the trade, contributed as well by recording the first of Nashville's two shootout scores.
"You know, that trade gave us a real weapon in the shootout," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's really patient as you saw (Thursday).''
Columbus (30-36-8) has also improved following the trade, going 15-13-5 with Jones - taken fourth overall by Nashville in the 2013 draft - leading his new team in average time on ice.
That progress hasn't been evident of late, however, as the Blue Jackets begin a four-game trip having lost five of seven and were officially eliminated from the postseason with Thursday's 3-2 defeat to Carolina.
Two days after scoring twice in the final 1:04 to earn a 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia, Columbus allowed three goals in the first 2:30 of the third period to erase a 1-0 lead.
''We had some opportunities,'' coach John Tortorella said. "The other night, we win a crazy one. (Thursday), we lose a crazy one.''
Sergei Bobrovsky attempts to rebound from Thursday's rough finish and extend his career success against Nashville. The 2013 Vezina Trophy recipient improved to 7-3-0 versus the Predators by making 39 saves in a 4-0 home win on Nov. 20.
Johansen had a goal and an assist that night for Columbus, where the 2012 No. 4 overall pick spent four-plus seasons and led the Jackets in points in 2013-14.
"This one would feel good to win for sure," he told the Predators' official website. "It'll be interesting seeing all those guys and being on the same ice playing against them. I'm looking forward to it now; it should be a fun night."
The 23-year-old has six points over his last five games, with Neal recording six goals over that stretch. Forsberg, who's scored 11 over his last 14, has a goal in three straight.
Columbus has lost four straight on the road but has won in two of its past three visits to Nashville.