Playoffs clinched, Predators target more with 5 games left
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have taken care of their first goal and are back in the playoffs for the first time in three years.
With five games left, they have their sights set on much more.
''Certainly it was a goal to get back in the playoffs,'' Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said after a 5-2 loss to Calgary on Sunday. ''It's a goal for us to continue to finish strong here and see what we can do here for the last five games of the year, and then ultimately we're going to get that chance ... It's been an exciting year to this point, but we've still got a lot of work to do.''
Making the playoffs was the first postseason goal for the Predators, who fired coach Barry Trotz a year ago when he missed out for a second straight season. Laviolette was handed the mission of returning this franchise to the postseason.
Now the Predators' to-do list includes winning their first division title after five second-place finishes. They entered Monday atop the Central Division with 102 points. Finishing first in the Western Conference is another goal for a franchise that has never ended up higher than fourth in its 15 previous seasons.
''We are trying to accomplish bigger things now,'' defenseman Seth Jones said. ''We want to win our division obviously, we want to win our conference, we want to win the league. We want home ice for the playoffs, and we need all the points we can get because other teams are winning.''
The Predators have survived the toughest stretch of their schedule, and a team that slumped most of March now is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games. The loss to Calgary snapped a four-game winning streak in which Nashville beat Buffalo and Montreal at home and won at Tampa Bay and Washington.
Laviolette gave the Predators the day off Monday, and Nashville now has a chance to rest up for the playoffs. Of the Predators' final five games, only two are against teams in playoff contention. They have two road trips left, including the regular-season finale April 11 at Dallas.
Winning the division won't be easy. St. Louis entered Monday with two games in hand on Nashville and only three points back. Chicago also had two games in hand and was six points back. Home-ice through the Western playoffs also is a challenge with the Predators three points behind league-leading Anaheim, though Nashville has a game in hand on the Ducks.
The Predators can work to sharpen a power play that ranks 26th in the league and take advantage of the chance to heal up over the final two weeks of the regular season.
Left wing James Neal has missed eight games with an upper-body injury, and he was tied for the team lead with 22 goals when he last played. Captain Shea Weber missed both games over the weekend with a lower-body injury, the first time he has sat out all season. Veteran left wing Eric Nystrom has missed four weeks with his own lower-body injury and should be close to returning.
But rookie Filip Forsberg has broken out of his scoring drought. He snapped a 12-game stretch without a goal by delivering an overtime game-winner on March 24 against Montreal. Forsberg had three points in Saturday's 4-3 win at Washington that made Nashville the first Western team to clinch a playoff berth this year. That helped Forsberg regain his status as the NHL's top-scoring rookie with 59 points.
Mike Ribeiro has set a franchise record for assists in a season by a Nashville center with 45, and he is nine shy of Paul Kariya's mark for most assists in team history. Ribeiro also has 60 points, the most by a Nashville player since J.P. Dumont had 65 in 2008-09.
Goalie Pekka Rinne, tied for the league-lead with 41 wins, is two victories shy of matching his career-high set in 2011-12.
So now the Predators are ready to see what else they can do.
''We want to go further than just going to the playoffs,'' defenseman Roman Josi said