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30-22-12

Predators-Panthers Preview

AP - Sports

The Nashville Predators are fighting to get into the top half of the Western Conference standings, though they'll likely need to improve their play on the road to do so.

The Florida Panthers hope to end a rough stretch at home as they look to hold onto their Southeast Division lead.

Each team looks to bounce back from a loss when Nashville visits Florida on Saturday night.

The Predators (37-20-7) are coming off a 4-3 defeat to Carolina on Tuesday, their fifth loss in six road games. Nashville, which plays 10 of its final 18 away from home, is fifth in the West and chasing St. Louis and Detroit in the Central Division.

Gabriel Bourque had a goal and an assist while Craig Smith and Colin Wilson added goals Tuesday for the Predators, who were short-handed six times and allowed two power-play goals.

''We almost pulled it out,'' coach Barry Trotz said. ''We were urgent in the third period and played more of our game. We've played five games in eight nights and we were really tired. That's no excuse, but sometimes you get tired mentally and you don't have the juice. In the end, it ended up being the special teams that made the difference.''

Nashville will have had three days off to re-energize for the matchup with Florida, which had its three-game winning streak snapped in a 7-0 loss at Winnipeg on Thursday.

The Panthers (30-21-12) allowed five third-period goals as the second-place Jets cut Florida's lead in the division to two points.

"We had lots of turnovers and they ended up in our net and you can't play that kind of hockey in October and you certainly play it in March," coach Kevin Dineen said. "It's definitely a man's game this time of year and we did not look prepared."

Florida will look to bounce back at home, where it's lost four of five and is 15-8-8. Florida is the only division leader to have more overall losses than victories on home ice.

The Panthers, though, have been successful when hosting Nashville, going 5-0-2 with one tie in eight all-time meetings. They won 3-2 on Jan. 13, 2011, in the most recent matchup at BankAtlantic Center.

Leading scorer Kris Versteeg is expected to be out again due to a lower-body injury. That won't be ideal with Florida set to face star Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, who had the night off Tuesday but will be back in net for this contest.

Rinne has gone 5-1-1 with a 1.70 goals-against average over his last seven starts, though he's lost his only two career starts at Florida, allowing five total goals.

Center Paul Gaustad said he will make his Predators debut after being acquired at the trade deadline from Buffalo on Monday. He didn't play against Carolina due to an upper-body injury.

"I'm going to try and work hard to acclimate myself to the system," Gaustad said. "I know it's going to take a little patience and some time, but hopefully I fit in."

It's uncertain who will be in net for the Panthers, though Scott Clemmensen made 27 saves to beat Rinne in the most recent meeting. He allowed three goals on eight shots in the third period Thursday in relief of Jose Theodore.

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