For the Nashville Predators to move back among the top eight in the Western Conference, longtime coach Barry Trotz said they must beat lesser competition consistently down the stretch.
Their next opponent is a perfect example.
The Predators seek their third win of the season over the sputtering Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.
In a span of just over 13 months, Nashville (34-24-10) has taken three in a row from Colorado, benefiting from one big period to break open a close game each time.
The Predators scored three straight third-period goals Feb. 12 en route to a 5-3 home victory. Less than three weeks earlier, Trotz’s club also surged in the third, scoring three times in less than eight minutes during a 5-1 win at Colorado.
The Preds found the back of the net four times in the second period of a 5-3 win over the Avs on Feb. 4, 2010, in Nashville.
With 78 points, the Predators are currently 10th in the West, one point behind Anaheim and one point ahead of Minnesota. Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Calgary are all tied for fifth with 81 points - one point behind Dallas.
“We’ve got to keep winning games to be in the top eight because the teams ahead of us aren’t going to lose any or very few. So you’ve just go to keep winning. If you do that, we’ll be there,” Trotz said following the Predators’ 4-0 win over Minnesota on Thursday.
A favorable schedule also may help boost the Preds’ chances of reaching the playoffs. Nashville is tied with the Canucks for the league low with seven regulation losses at home, where it will play 11 of its final 14.
Trotz, though, said that alone won’t guarantee success.
“It’s going to be really hard at home because teams are going to come in battling for points,” he said. “We’re going to need those points, and every game is a big game.”
Rinne has allowed only seven goals in his last seven wins, including two each against division leaders Detroit and Vancouver. He’s recorded three of his six shutouts this season during that stretch, which started Feb. 5. Rinne is 5-0-0 with a 2.38 GAA in his career versus the Avalanche, but has yet to blank them.
Erat has been the Predators’ top scorer this month with two goals and five assists during a four-game point streak. He had a goal with two assists against the Avs last month.
Colorado (26-33-8) has seen its season spiral downward. Friday’s 6-2 loss to Anaheim was the Avalanche’s seventh straight, and dropped them to 1-15-2 since Jan. 26.
Hejduk, who is one game shy of 900 for his career, has a team-high nine power-play goals and is third with 48 points. Stastny leads the club with 33 assists and 53 points.
“What else can I say about the injuries?” coach Joe Sacco said. “I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but there a number of injuries that we’ve had to deal with this year and they’re tough to overcome.”
So is poor play. Colorado has scored two goals in 13 of its last 18 games, while surrendering at least three goals 17 times in that span.