Nashville (31-20-8) at Columbus (29-23-6)

By MATT BEARDMORE, STATS Writer Monday, Feb 21, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:00 pm EST Tue Feb 22, 2011

In a tight race for a Western Conference playoff spot, the Nashville Predators could face an even tougher battle if defenseman Ryan Suter(notes) is sidelined for an extended period with an injury.

The Columbus Blue Jackets face an uphill climb to the postseason, and being without top center Derick Brassard(notes) probably won’t make it any easier.

The Predators open a road-heavy portion of their schedule Tuesday night when they face the Blue Jackets, who have surged back into playoff contention.

Tied with Calgary for fifth in the West and two points ahead of a handful of teams, Nashville (31-20-8) knows it’s in for a struggle over the final seven weeks as it looks to secure a second straight postseason berth. The Predators would certainly like to have Suter in the lineup to help, but his availability is a question mark.

Suter leads Nashville at plus-19 and is tied for the team lead with 25 assists, but it’s uncertain when he’ll play again after suffering an upper-body injury during a 3-2 loss to Phoenix on Saturday.

“It’s tough, but we’ve got guys back there capable of stepping up,” defenseman Shea Weber(notes) said. “Our defense goes pretty deep, and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

The Predators, who open a stretch of six of eight on the road, have allowed a league-low 139 goals.

The Blue Jackets (29-23-6) will also have to overcome the loss of a key player, as Brassard was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a hand problem and will miss two to three weeks. Columbus will look to top scorers Rick Nash(notes) and R.J. Umberger(notes) to help it do so.

Nash had an assist and Umberger set up two goals as the Blue Jackets defeated Chicago 4-3 on Friday, setting a franchise record with their sixth straight road win.

Antoine Vermette(notes), Derek MacKenzie(notes) and Anton Stralman(notes) scored during a 5:54 stretch of the second period to erase an early 2-1 deficit.

“I just felt we were giving them a little too much respect,” said coach Scott Arniel, whose team has won six of eight and is four points out of the final playoff spot in the West. “We’ve had success in the last three or four weeks because we haven’t gotten intimidated by any team we’re playing.”

The Blue Jackets have gone 5-1-2 in their last eight home games against the Predators, compared to 0-10-5 in the 15 most recent matchups at Bridgestone Arena.

The strong play in those home games is due in part to Columbus’ Steve Mason(notes), who’s gone 4-1-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average in starting six of them.

Mason made 27 saves and recorded his 16th shutout in a 2-0 home win over the Predators on Nov. 22. He stopped 26 shots through overtime in a 4-3 shootout loss to visiting Nashville on Dec. 1.

The Predators’ Pekka Rinne(notes) has gone 2-1-0 with a 1.95 GAA in the season series. He had to make only 19 saves in the teams’ most recent meeting, a 4-1 Nashville home victory Jan. 2.

The Blue Jackets have killed off 27 of 29 penalties during their 6-1-1 run. The Predators have gone 0 for 35 on the power play in their last 10 games at Nationwide Arena.

Columbus opens a five-game trip Sunday against Nashville.

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Tuesday, Feb 22