With a win, the fate of the Nashville Predators is really simple -- they'll claim the Central Division title and have home-ice advantage against the Western Conference's first wild-card team in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But a loss could mean anything from finishing first to third in the Central. So as the Predators ready to host to the Chicago Blackhawks in Saturday's regular-season finale, plenty is on the line.
"We have one division banner, and we'd love to add another," alternate captain Ryan Ellis told NHL.com, referring to the franchise claiming its first ever division title last year. "It's essentially Game 1 of the playoffs. We've really been treating these last couple games as playoff-style games, because we knew we had to win. We knew the other teams would do their job, and we're going to have to do ours. We need to win it."
Nashville (46-29-6, 98 points) is one point ahead of both the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues. Winnipeg is at Arizona to round out the season, while St. Louis plays its finale at home against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Predators are rolling as they head toward the playoffs. Their 3-2 comeback win over Vancouver on Thursday was their second straight victory, and they're riding a 7-2-1 run.
"There's no question that when you're playing for something, it's a better habit than when you're not playing for something," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "When you don't play for something, as much as you can say the right things and do the right things -- you can tell somebody to be desperate and then you can have somebody who's actually desperate, and it's two different things.
"Our guys played like they were trying to accomplish something, and the work's not done yet."
Chicago (36-33-12, 84 points) has been eliminated from the playoff chase, but is coming off a 6-1 home-ice drubbing of the playoff-bound Dallas Stars on Friday.
Patrick Kane scored twice to give him 44 goals and a career-high 109 points
"It would have been nice to have these games early on, but nothing we can do about it now," Kane told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We're in this situation, so come along, give it the best we can, especially in front of our home fans here. We did a great job the last couple games and hopefully gave them something to think about and be proud of."
Chicago's win came with a slight cost, as No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford left due to a groin injury and was replaced by Cam Ward. Ward became the 28th goalie in NHL history to play in a 700th regular season game.
Ward, who may be retiring after his 14th NHL season, went into the affair understanding the end may be near, so that milestone had meaning.
"Once the season's over, we'll think about the future, but it does sink in that (it) could be my last home game," Ward said. "I've got my family and kids here to watch the game, and I wanted to be in a good mood after the game.."
--Field Level Media