Predators chasing No. 4 seed as they face Jackets
BLUE JACKETS (34-33-13) at PREDATORS (43-26-11)
TV: FS-O, SPSO (HD)
Columbus 2-5-3; Nashville 8-1-1
Nashville has won three of the five meetings against their Central Division rivals and picked up seven of a possible 10 points. The Predators are 2-0 against the Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators will know by Friday morning if they are in the playoffs or not. If the Avalanche beat Dallas on Thursday, the Predators clinch. If the Stars win, Nashville would need at least a point against the Blue Jackets to get in.
Captain Rick Nash
has been ruled out for the remaining two games of the season with a lingering back injury. He hasn't played since March 29. The Columbus Dispatch reported that the injury is likely a back strain that is causing spasms. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told the newspaper that Nash's back has been "locking up on him." The Jackets are 0-3-1 without Nash.
This might get confusing, so bear with us: The Predators are one of four teams that can still finish as high as fourth in the Western Conference. They're all in action Friday. Right now Nashville holds down the No. 5 seed, but is tied with sixth-place Phoenix with 97 points and 37 non-shootout wins. The Predators own the tiebreaker over the Coyotes thanks to goal-differential (plus-24 to plus-6). They trail the fourth-place Kings by one point, but they currently own the tiebreaker over L.A. with one more non-shootout win. Anaheim is the other team that can finish fourth, but the Ducks are currently seventh, two points behind the Coyotes and Predators and three points behind the Kings.
Nashville is coming off a 6-3 win over Atlanta on Tuesday. The Predators scored three times in the first period and built a 5-0 lead before Atlanta finally scored early in the third.
"We're trying to move up and get that fourth spot if we can," forward Mike Fisher said. "That being said, we were playing a team that was out of it, so we found a way to get up. And we got some good bounces early and really kind of put the game out of hand."
Predators forward Sergei Kostitsyn has 6 goals and 7 assists during a career-best 10-game points streak. No other Nashville player has had a points streak reach double digits this season. Forward Jordin Tootoo had a career-best 3-point night Tuesday in the win over Atlanta. Tootoo had 2 goals and an assist. He has 3 goals in the last two games and 4 in the last five.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz reportedly said Thursday that there's a chance Steve Sullivan (groin) returns before the end of the regular season. For Columbus, Nash and defenseman Kris Russell
(broken left fibula) are out, but goalie Steve Mason
(groin) and forward Chris Clark
(lower body) are expected to play.
Nashville is 40-4-2 this season when it scores three or more goals. The Predators are 29-5-8 when they score first. … Columbus hasn't won in Nashville since 2006. The Blue Jackets are 0-11-5 at Bridgestone Arena since the start of the 2006-07 season.
"Mentally, we've got to be prepared to play 60 minutes and not look too far ahead of us," Tootoo said. "We've got to live in the moment shift by shift and make the best of it. … We need points. We want to win out the season here and then obviously be as high as we can in the standings."