March 04, 2015

The Nashville Predators are one of the league's hottest teams and have taken control of the Western Conference wild-card race to all but assure another trip to the postseason.

Now their mission is to keep that push going over their final 12 games and head into the playoffs on a roll.

Nashville begins a tough three-game stretch against likely playoff-bound foes Thursday night as it looks to beat the visiting New York Islanders for the first time in five meetings.

The Predators (35-22-13) hold a sizable lead for the West's first wild card thanks to a 10-1-5 stretch. They earned seven of a possible 10 points over a five-game road trip after James Neal recorded a hat trick in Monday's 3-2 win over Edmonton.

"Every game is going to be tough down the stretch," said Neal, who has five goals and two assists in seven games this month. "I thought we did a good job to stay on the right side of the puck (Monday) and got some timely goals and managed to get a big win."

Although Nashville had success on its trip, only Colorado has a realistic shot of making the playoffs with the other opponents sitting toward the bottom of the West. The competition gets tougher over the next week with a visit from the Islanders (38-21-9) and a trip to face NHL-leading Washington on Friday, followed by Monday's home matchup with Pacific-leading Los Angeles.

The Predators have earned nine of a possible 12 points at home since Feb. 15.

"We got the job done (Monday), and there's a good feeling in the room," center Ryan Johansen said. "Going back home now with eight home games and four on the road to finish up this season, it was a big, tough road trip."

Nashville had a two-goal lead in the first meeting with New York on Oct. 15 before John Tavares and Anders Lee had a goal and an assist apiece to help the Islanders rally for a 4-3 victory.

They've outscored the Predators 16-9 during their four-game winning streak in the series, but they're 1-1-2 since March 9 after falling 2-1 in a shootout at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Lee assisted on Kyle Okposo's tying goal with 5:25 remaining before Okposo, Tavares and Frans Nielsen all missed in the shootout. Coach Jack Capuano decided to rest Brock Nelson and Shane Prince and inserted Mikhail Grabovski, who hadn't played since Feb. 19 because of an upper-body injury.

"I'm real proud of the guys and the effort they put forth," Capuano said. "You come into this building against a really high-quality team on a back-to-back with long travel and come out with a point."

The Islanders are fighting with the Rangers and Penguins for home-ice advantage in the first-round of the playoffs, but they've lost three straight on the road after winning six of their previous seven.

''It would've been nice to get two (points Tuesday), obviously,'' defenseman Travis Hamonic said. ''It's a pretty obvious thing, but you get them the best way you can this year. You try to gather them and I think we battled hard."

Jean-Francois Berube played well in his third NHL start as New York moves on without Jaroslav Halak, who will be out for at least the rest of the regular season with a lower-body injury.

Thomas Greiss could be back in net against the Predators, who will have to decide how to approach the back-to-back set with Pekka Rinne. He's started on consecutive days only once this season.

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