The top teams in the NHL may be fine tuning their teams for the upcoming playoff season, but for the Nashville Predators the playoffs are currently in progress. How they play in the final five games will determine if they make into the final round of sixteen.
The race is so tight, that the Predators, who were in eight place in the Western Conference entering Thursday’s action, fell to ninth based on St Louis's win over Detroit and Anaheim's OT win over Vancouver. The good news for the Predators is that their destiny is in their hands. If they win their last five games they are assured of a playoff berth.
The Predators have two critical games this weekend starting tonight, when they play the Black Hawks at Chicago’s United Center at 7:30 p.m. Immediately after the game, the Preds return to Nashville where they will play Columbus at the Sommet Center Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
The Predators had not lost in regulation for eight straight games until they lost at Columbus Tuesday night by a score of 2-1. The undermanned Preds fought hard, but came up short against a Blue Jacket team whose playoff appetite has also been whetted.
The Predators continue to suffer from a rash of injuries to key players. Jason Arnott returned to practice on Thursday after being out for a month with concussion symptoms. Arnott will not return to game action until Tuesday, at best. They are also without David Legwand, Marty Erat, Ryan Jones, and Wade Belak with no return dates in sight.
Tuesday night, the Preds injury situation worsened, losing pesky rookie, Antti Pihlstrom early in the game with a lower body injury. The Predators recalled fan favorite Jed Ortmeyer from Milwaukee on Thursday to replace Pihlstrom on the roster for this weekend’s game.
Cal O’Reilly, who was recalled last week, picked up where he left off in the minors scoring two goals and adding an assist in four games. Mike Santorelli who was called up before Tuesday’s game contributed little in the Pred’s losing effort.
Barry Trotz is making no excuses for the Predator’s battered lineup. His “Band of Brothers” mentality is that the team doesn’t worry about the players that are unable to play. His theory is that they put twenty players on the ice every night and that if they play as a team they can be successful.
Steve Sullivan Nominated for Masterton Trophy – On Thursday, the NHL announced that Steve Sullivan is the Predator’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy that goes to the player that "best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey." The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards banquet at the Palms hotel in Las Vegas on June 18th. Sullivan will be an odds on favorite to win the award as he has returned from a severe back injury to play at a high level after missing 23 months of NHL action.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass and The Columbia Daily Herald