The Detroit Red Wings became the first Western Conference team to secure a playoff spot to start the week. Their Central Division rivals, the Nashville Predators, look to pull closer to a berth when the teams meet at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
Detroit defeated St. Louis 4-1 on Monday night to clinch a postseason spot. Steve Yzerman scored his 690th goal to tie Mario Lemieux for eighth place all-time for the Red Wings, who now set their sights on the conference title.
The Wings are looking to hold off Dallas in the West for their second straight conference crown and third in four seasons. Detroit is also trying to earn the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best record for the third time in that span. With 105 points, the Red Wings are two ahead of Ottawa.
Yzerman’s 12th goal of the season came midway through the second period, pulling him even with Lemieux, who retired in January.
“I don’t really know the significance,” Yzerman said of tying the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar. “If anything, it shows how good (Lemieux) is; he played almost five years less than I did.”
Next up on the career list for Detroit’s captain is Mark Messier, who’s four goals ahead of Yzerman.
The Red Wings will be looking to extend a six-game road winning streak when they face the Predators, who as recently as last week appeared ready to take a run at Detroit down the stretch.
Nashville pulled to within eight points of Detroit with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Wings at Joe Louis Arena on March 21, its fifth straight win. The Predators, though, have since dropped three straight to fall 13 points behind the Wings with 10 games remaining.
While the Predators are unlikely to catch the Red Wings, they have a good chance of locking up fourth place in the conference, which would give them home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Nashville’s 27-6-1 home mark is tops in the West.
Nashville’s outstanding play at home could be the deciding factor in the race for the fourth spot. The Preds’ three-game losing streak came on the road, but they play seven of their final 10 games at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
“You’ve got to play with urgency and we aren’t playing with urgency right now,” said Nashville’s Tomas Vokoun, who made 37 saves in his team’s 5-3 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday night. “That’s why we’re a step late everywhere. That’s why teams are scoring on us. It’s a long season and there are always ups and downs. We just have to get back somehow on the horse and whatever we need to do we need to do it.”
The Predators have given up 17 goals in the last three games, including eight on the power play.
The Red Wings have won the last three meetings at Nashville, but the Preds have won six in a row at home. Nashville’s last loss on home ice was a 3-2 defeat to Detroit on Feb. 9.