Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators game preview

Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators game preview

Published Feb. 11, 2017 5:06 p.m. ET

TV: FOX Sports Florida

Time: 2 p.m.


As the calendar edges into mid-February, the games get bigger for teams like the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators.

The teams get together for a Saturday matinee at Bridgestone Arena, each needing wins to boost their position in the Eastern and Western Conference playoff races, respectively.

Florida (23-20-10) starts a five-game road trip through the west fresh off a stinker, a 6-3 home loss to Los Angeles on Thursday night in which it trailed 6-1 until potting a pair of garbage-time goals in the last nine minutes.

Nashville (26-20-8) outplayed the New York Rangers for most of Thursday night's game in Madison Square Garden, outshooting them 37-30, winning 55 percent of faceoffs and establishing a 2-0 lead early in the second period. But it lost 4-3, victimized in equal parts by New York's speed and puck luck.

The Rangers' first goal came as the result of a failed clearing attempt by Matt Irwin that struck an official's skate and caromed into the middle of the ice, leading to Michael Grabner's 26th marker. A tie-breaking goal by Chris Kreider early in the third period survived a replay review for offside.

"It's a dangerous group they have," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said of the Rangers. "They got some fortuitous bounces tonight. I thought after the first seven, eight minutes we were working, generating chances."

But that work wasn't enough to even earn a "loser" point for forcing overtime. As a result, Nashville fell to fourth place in the Central Division because of St. Louis' overtime win in Toronto, meaning it's now the Western's first wild-card.

That's the position it was in last season, forcing it to play Pacific Division teams in the playoffs. Some thought the grueling travel schedule -- it made nine flights to and from Anaheim and San Jose in a month -- helped wear it down by the end of its loss to the Sharks in Game 7.

Meanwhile, the Panthers stand four points out of the East's last wild-card spot, but have to climb over three teams to get there. It's a far cry from a season ago, when they rolled to the Atlantic Division title before suffering a first round upset against the New York Islanders.

This season, they were the first team to fire their coach, letting Gerard Gallant go on Nov. 27 and replacing him with general manager Tom Rowe. Florida is 12-10-9 under Rowe, although it's been hampered by a run of injuries.

The Panthers are almost whole now, but haven't been able to find the consistency they exhibited last season. The loss to Los Angeles was a classic example, as they were run out of their building by a team coming off consecutive 5-0 losses.

"It's one of those games," Rowe said. "It wasn't pretty; everyone knows it wasn't pretty. We're going to forget about it and move on. We can't dwell on it. It was a bad game from the start to the end of it."

Florida won its first meeting with the Predators on Jan. 6, a 2-1 decision in Sunrise.