Predators host rival Jets in 'huge game'
Minutes after the Nashville Predators' 10-game winning streak ended Saturday night with a 3-2 shootout loss to New Jersey, coach Peter Laviolette had moved on to the next one.
"We don't ever talk about streaks really," Laviolette said. "We have a huge game coming up. When we do come back to work, we're probably only going to talk about that and getting ready for Winnipeg. We'll look at it to stretch out the division, and they're going to look at it to close the gap. Both teams are going to fight pretty hard for it."
The teams' fourth meeting of the season takes place Tuesday night in Bridgestone Arena, the finale to Nashville's four-game homestand and Winnipeg's six-game road trip. The Predators (44-14-10) enter six points ahead of the Jets (41-18-10) in the Central Division after Winnipeg fell 3-2 Monday night in overtime at Washington.
If this game is anything like the last time these teams played, it will be a track meet on skates. The Jets led 3-1 and 5-3 on Feb. 27 in Manitoba, but Nashville stormed from behind and won 6-5 as Ryan Hartman deflected the tie-breaker home in the last minute of his first game with his new team.
The acquisition of Hartman Feb. 25 from Chicago, plus the decision by Mike Fisher to come out of retirement and rejoin the team he captained to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, only made a deep team even deeper.
So deep, in fact, that Laviolette continues to give key players "maintenance" days off to give them rest before the playoffs. Calle Jarnkrok got Saturday night's game off, leaving P.K. Subban as the only skater to play in every game, and there's a chance Subban could get a game off during the team's three-game road trip that starts Thursday night in Arizona.
"This is one of the toughest times of the year," center Ryan Johansen said. "Every team, every player is bringing their best. You've got to find ways to prepare yourself and out-compete, outwork and outplay the opposition."
Johansen did his part against New Jersey, forcing overtime with his 11th goal at 18:54 of the third period. That gave him goals in consecutive games, suggesting that he might be about to get on the kind of roll that's eluded him most of the season.
Winnipeg knows all too well about Johansen. In his 17 career games against the Jets, Johansen has 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points -- four more than he's scored against any opponent.
Tasked with stopping Johansen and the rest of his teammates is Michael Hutchinson (2-0-0, 2.00, .933), who has won his only starts so far. Connor Hellebuyck played well Monday night in Washington, saving 40 of 43 shots, but will get the night off.
While Winnipeg was outshot 43-28 against Washington, captain Blake Wheeler felt his team played better over the last half of the game.
"We were all over the puck. They weren't able to make any clean passes," he said. "We had all kinds of chances to win that game."
Pekka Rinne (37-9-4, 2.28, .928) is expected to get the start for Nashville after getting a game off on Saturday.
Updated March 12, 2018