Back-to-back games left the Columbus Blue Jackets tired. Consecutive contests against the Nashville Predators could leave them dragging in the Western Conference playoff race.
Coming off a much-needed day off, the Blue Jackets look to hold off the surging Predators on Tuesday night in a matchup of playoff hopefuls.
A tough home-and-home series with St. Louis left Columbus (39-29-8) two points ahead of Nashville (38-30-8) for sixth place in the West. The Blue Jackets lost 5-3 to the Blues on Sunday after dropping the opener 4-3 in overtime the previous evening.
Columbus, trying to make the postseason for the first time in franchise history, looked worn out in the series finale against the Blues after going 7-1-2 in its previous 10 games.
"If you don't feel tired after back-to-back games it's not a good sign," Blue Jackets center Antoine Vermette said. "You got to look ahead. That's one game, a disappointing loss, but you got to look ahead, learn from your mistakes and go forward."
The Blue Jackets need to recharge in a hurry as they face the Predators (38-30-8) in their next two games. Nashville plays at Chicago on Friday night before facing Columbus again the next day.
The Predators have won three straight despite being banged up, capping a big week with a 4-3 victory over Detroit on Sunday night. Prior to that, Nashville defeated West-leading San Jose on Thursday night and Los Angeles in OT on Saturday night.
"We're in the fight of our lives for the playoffs," Predators winger Steve Sullivan said. "We've still got a lot of work to do."
Nashville will have to do it without winger Martin Erat, who will probably miss at least four weeks with a leg injury. Predators coach Barry Trotz said Erat, second on the team with 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists), likely suffered a fracture.
Nashville has already been playing without centers Jason Arnott (concussion) and David Legwand (cheekbone). Their status for Tuesday is uncertain.
Erat scored in Nashville's 4-2 win over Columbus on March 5, the teams' last matchup. The Predators are 2-1-1 versus the Blue Jackets this season and 9-2-3 since the start of 2005-06, but have lost two straight at Columbus.
Rookie Steve Mason has played a large role in putting the Blue Jackets in playoff position, but he gave up four goals on 23 shots in the last meeting with Nashville. Mason, 31-18-5 with a 2.24 goals-against average, allowed eight goals in the two games against St. Louis after surrendering three in his previous three contests.
The Blue Jackets will need to tighten up defensively to hold off the Predators, who are part of a logjam of teams vying for the West's last three playoff spots.
"We're going to have to earn our way in. Nobody's going to give us anything," said Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, whose club is the only one in the NHL never to have made the postseason. "The disturbing part for us (the last two games) is we've had people pushed out of the competition. That's something we have to address."