Strong play since the All-Star break has the Nashville Predators in position to challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Ottawa Senators are also making a run, but it may be too late.
Coming off a win over the NHL’s top team, the Predators look to hand the Senators their first loss in five games Monday night.
Nashville (27-26-3) is in 11th place in the tightly contested West, but has gone 7-3-0 since the All-Star break to give it a chance to extend its streak of four straight playoff appearances. A 3-2 shootout win over league-leading Boston on Saturday provided a big boost to the Predators’ confidence.
“You just have to look at the standings to realize how big every point is,” Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “You can see our guys smiling. There is a good atmosphere in the locker room. If we just stick together we know we can do it. That’s good.”
Despite winning four in a row, Ottawa (21-25-8) faces much longer odds. The Senators are 4-1-1 since Cory Clouston replaced the fired Craig Hartsburg as coach, but they’re 12th in the East and nine points behind 10th-place Pittsburgh.
Still, Ottawa is also confident after playing so poorly under Hartsburg.
“They’re a group that believes right now,” Clouston said. “We’ve been down a couple times in the last few games and we’ve been able to squeak out some points. All the credit goes to those guys. They went out and executed and got results.”
Strong defense has played a large role in the Senators’ turnaround, but they’ll face a tough test versus the Predators and surging David Legwand.
The center scored in the fourth round of the shootout against the Bruins after scoring twice in regulation, including his third short-handed goal of 2008-09. The veteran has 14 goals on the season - eight in his last 17 games - with 10 of the goals coming at the Sommet Center.
“He is skating really well right now,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “Leggy has a tremendous amount of talent. We have always wanted him to produce offensively. When he is skating like that he can be a force.”
Legwand, though, has one goal and one assist in nine games against Ottawa.
The Senators gave up two goals or fewer in three straight games before a 5-3 win over Minnesota on Saturday night, overcoming a three-goal first-period deficit.
Ottawa has also picked up its aggressiveness on offense, scoring five goals in each of its last two contests and 19 in the last five games. It was shut out twice in three games prior to that stretch.
Against the Wild, Daniel Alfredsson scored a short-handed goal early in the third period and added two assists. He has two goals and four assists in his last three games, and five goals and five assists in his last seven contests.
The veteran winger has five goals and seven assists in eight games against Nashville.
The Senators will be trying to win five in a row for the first time since a six-game run in December 2007, but they’ve lost three straight road games to the Predators since a 4-0 victory March 24, 2001.
Nashville won 6-5 at Ottawa on Nov. 29, 2007, the teams’ only meeting last season.