If the Nashville Predators were going to make any headway in the crowded Western Conference playoff picture, they knew they’d have to play well during their five-game homestand.
Picking up all 10 points certainly helped them make up some ground.
Six wins in a row overall have pulled the Predators into a tie for sixth place in the West, and they’ll try to extend their streak Saturday night when they visit the Philadelphia Flyers.
Nashville (33-28-4) was 11th in the conference Feb. 24, four points behind eighth-place Minnesota but also only three points ahead of 15th-place Colorado.
With a perfect homestand, though, the Predators have made a significant climb up the standings. Nashville outscored its opponents 27-11 in winning all five games, and with a 4-2 victory over Columbus on Thursday, pulled into a tie with the Blue Jackets for sixth place.
“This is exactly what we needed, and hopefully we can keep riding it,” said Steve Sullivan, who scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period. “With 17 games left in the season, this is when you want to get hot down the stretch. We’re in a dogfight to make the playoffs, and we want to make sure we keep going hard.”
Sullivan had four goals and five assists during the homestand, helping lead the way along with Jason Arnott, who had six goals and four assists.
The difference maker for Nashville, though, continues to be goaltender Pekka Rinne. The NHL’s rookie of the month for February, Rinne has a 1.82 goals-against average and two shutouts during the six-game winning streak.
A victory over Philadelphia (34-19-10) would give Nashville its longest win streak since an eight-game run to start the 2005-06 season.
The Predators have a 14.3 percent rate of success on the power play to rank among the league’s bottom five, while the Flyers’ 21.5 percent conversion rate is among the NHL’s top eight.
But while Nashville went 5-of-17 during its homestand, Philadelphia’s power-play unit has been awful recently. The Flyers have gone 1-for-20 with the man advantage in losing three of four, including 0-for-5 in a 5-1 home defeat to Calgary on Thursday.
Philadelphia, which kicked off its own five-game homestand, fell behind 4-0 before the first period was over.
“It sure looked like we didn’t have any energy there tonight,” coach John Stevens said. “It was an old-fashioned butt-whipping there, that’s what that was. I don’t have an answer for you at this point. It was just an awful effort by our hockey team, right through our lineup.”
Antero Niittymaki, battling Martin Biron to be the team’s top goaltender in the postseason, was pulled after the first, but he wasn’t the only Flyer to leave the ice early. Center Danny Briere, who returned Sunday after missing 51 games due to a sore groin, tweaked his injury in the second and didn’t return for the third.
A team surgeon told Briere on Friday that adhesions broke from his last groin surgery and there was some internal bleeding - enough damage to keep him out against Nashville, but possibly just for a game.
“There’s a big relief,” said Briere, who had a team-high 31 goals last season.
Jeff Carter, who leads the Flyers with 36 goals, doesn’t have a point in his last three games and has only two goals in his last 11.
Nashville hasn’t faced Philadelphia since a 3-2 road win Nov. 29, 2006.