After letting any hope of winning the Central Division slip away in their last game, the Nashville Predators still have plenty to play for in the final week of the season.
The Predators can clinch a postseason berth Tuesday night when they host an Atlanta Thrashers club that just had its playoff chances end.
Ryan Suter, Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn gave them a 3-0 lead on division-leading Detroit in the opening three minutes of the second period on Saturday, but the Predators (42-26-11) fell 4-3 in overtime to open a three-game homestand.
The loss dropped Nashville five points back of the Red Wings, and coach Barry Trotz's team was officially eliminated from that race Sunday with Detroit's 4-2 victory over Minnesota.
The Predators, though, are preparing for a critical week that continues against Columbus on Friday and ends at St. Louis on Saturday. Currently in sixth place in the crowded Western Conference standings, Nashville can finish with as many as 101 points.
"The challenge for us is to finish as high as we can here," Trotz told the Predators' official website Monday. "...That could put us in the four or five seed pretty easily."
Nashville will advance to the postseason for the sixth time in eight seasons with a victory against Atlanta (33-33-12) or with one point plus a Dallas loss against Columbus on Tuesday.
The Predators, who have lost two straight at home following an 8-1 stretch at Bridgestone Arena, will go for the season split with the Thrashers, who arrive in Nashville following a 3-2 loss at Boston on Saturday that knocked them out of playoff contention for the fourth straight year.
Atlanta improved to 15-10-3 with a 3-2 overtime win over the visiting Predators on Dec. 6, but the club is 14-22-7 since Dec. 20.
"I felt like we had a good start of the season. Other teams made up the ground,'' said forward Bryan Little. "We've been playing better here of late, but you can't take that much time off like we did.''
The Thrashers' freefall over the last three months can be largely attributed to Ondrej Pavelec's struggles. The fourth-year netminder is 5-13-5 with a 3.27 GAA in 25 starts.
Pavelec made 27 saves in his first appearance against Nashville on Dec. 6.
He could be in for a tough test against Kostitsyn, Suter and center David Legwand, who have combined for 11 goals and 29 points during the team's current 7-1-1 surge.
Kostitsyn has four goals and seven assists during a career-best nine-game point streak.
Anders Lindback turned away 34 shots in the Dec. 6 loss, but Pekka Rinne, who was sidelined with a left knee injury for that matchup, should be in net for Nashville on Tuesday.
Rinne, 8-2-1 with a 2.17 GAA in his last 11 starts, made 23 saves in the teams' last meeting in Nashville - a 4-3 Predators victory on Jan. 30, 2010.
Nashville has never lost to Atlanta twice in the same season.