It’s hard to do any better than the Nashville Predators did on their road trip through Western Canada last week.
They swept three games against Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary by a combined score of 13-1. Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne pitched consecutive shutouts in Alberta, while the power play kept clicking along and the penalty kill came up big in victories against the Oilers and Flames.
“We played a lot of good hockey,” Nashville’s Ryan Johansen said. “We started off right in Vancouver and found ways to win the last couple of games, so a lot of credit to every guy in here. Every guy was contributing throughout this trip, so it was a fun three games for us.”
Nashville will try to keep the fun going Tuesday night on its return to Bridgestone Arena, where it plays the Winnipeg Jets in a Central Division showdown.
The Predators (21-7-4) are 6-0-1 in their last seven games and 16-2-2 since Nov. 3, giving them a tie for first place in the division with St. Louis.
Winnipeg (19-10-5) is coming off a split of its home-and-home series over the weekend with St. Louis. After losing 2-0 Saturday night at Scottrade Center as Carter Hutton recorded a franchise record for saves in a shutout with 48, the Jets bounced back Sunday to win 4-0.
The only difference between that game and Saturday night was that Winnipeg scored. It drove play in both games, pumping 46 shots at Jake Allen in the rematch and lighting the lamp twice in the second and third periods.
“We got a lot of offense in those games,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “That’s the real takeaway from it. Those guys expect themselves to score. You need to stay in the game, the style of game you play best and they did that.”
Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler said Sunday’s result validated the belief that this is a playoff team, mainly because it didn’t let frustration color its efforts after Hutton’s shutout. All but four Jets skaters put a shot on net Sunday, and two who didn’t found the scoresheet, meaning their bus consisted of few passengers.
“The teams that have success when they’re in the playoffs are teams that do that over and over again,” Wheeler said of sticking to a game plan. “You just stick with it. We were able to take control of the game in the second period.”
It helped that Connor Hellebuyck (17-4-4, 2.45 goals-against average, .920 save percentage) was on point when faced with shots, turning away 24 of them for his second shutout of the month and season. He’ll have to be as strong to turn away a Nashville attack that has scored at least three goals in 18 of the last 20 games.
The Predators have been particularly explosive on home ice, averaging 3.9 goals in 15 home games. Filip Forsberg, who has 15 goals and 17 assists on the season, has scored at least a point in every home game.
Rinne (18-4-3, 2.25 GAA, .930 save percentage) is expected to start after stopping 32 shots Saturday night in Calgary for his third shutout of the season.
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