TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. VANCOUVER
The Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks close out their four-game season series tonight at Bridgestone Arena with the home team looking to claim three-of-four games for just the third time in franchise history. The Preds have taken two of the first three meetings of the clubs in 2010-11 and the only other times they finished with as many as six points (3-1-0) in a season against the Canucks was 2005-06 and 1998-99. The last time these teams met was three days into March, and saw Nashville prevail 3-0 behind goaltender Pekka Rinne’s 29-save shutout – the 19th shutout of his career – and Blake Geoffrion’s first career game-winning goal at 1:59 of the third period. Patric Hornqvist and David Legwand would provide insurance markers in the final 2:30 of regulation to secure Nashville’s sixth consecutive series split at Rogers Arena. The Predators also put up three goals and won when the ‘Nucks last visited the Music City on Feb. 17. All the scoring that night occurred in the final six minutes of the second period, as Martin Erat scored the game’s first goal at the 14:13 mark before Daniel Sedin, Nick Spaling and Mike Fisher completed the second-fastest three goals by both teams in building history, scoring in a 44-second span. After Sedin knotted the game at one at 18:15 of the second, Spaling would collect his second game-winning goal of the season a mere seven ticks later, tying for the second quickest response in franchise history. Fisher’s insurance marker at 19:11 was his first as a Predator. Through three games against one another, neither team has scored a first-period goal while putting the same number of shots on net (28). Nashville has outscored Vancouver by a combined 7-3 in the final 40 minutes of play, despite being outshot 54-72.
Martin Erat has points in all three games against Vancouver this season, and leads the team with four (1g-3a) through three games. Since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, the Trebic Czech Republic native has 12 points (5g-7a) in 10 games against the Canucks including his second career hat trick and a career-high four points (tie) on Dec. 8, 2009… Pekka Rinne has started all three games against Vancouver this season, going 2-1-0 with a 1.01 goals-against average and a .970 save percentage. For his career, Rinne is 4-3-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage… Legwand has five points (1g-4a) in his last seven games played against the ‘Nucks.
Jonathon Blum and Cody Franson both played for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants. Franson won the 2007 Memorial Cup with Vancouver and was named to the tournament’s all-star team, notched the lone hat trick at the 2006 Memorial Cup and led all blueliners in scoring with five points (3g-2a) in five games, and tied for third among WHL defensemen in points (15g-40a-55pts) in 2005-06. Blum is the Giant’s all-time leader in defensive scoring, in addition to ranking third overall on the franchise’s scoring list with 204 points (49g-155a) in 248 regular season games and 42 points (14g-28a) in 67 postseason contests from 2005-09. During his tenure with the Giants, the team claimed four division titles, two conference titles, a WHL Championship and a Memorial Cup Championship. He was named the 2009 Canadian Hockey League Jack Link’s Defenseman of the Year and captained the Giants to their best season in franchise history in 2008-09.
SIX STRAIGHT VICTORIES HELPS CREATE A TREND
Nashville’s 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday extended its active win streak to six games, and moved its record to 10-2-2 since Feb. 27. It is the second six-game winning streak the team has had since New Year’s Eve (6-0-0 from Dec. 31-Jan. 11) and the third time the Predators have won five or more in a row. Late-season rallies have become a trend for the franchise – a season ago, the Preds reeled off six straight from March 12-21 and went 11-3-1 in their final 15 games en route to the third 100-point season in franchise history. Though they missed the playoffs in 2009, Nashville posted six straight wins from Feb. 21-March 5 and finished the season on a 13-6-4 tear.
The Predators improved to 8-1-0 in their last nine home games with Saturday’s win, and at 22-8-7 on home ice for the season, are tied with Washington and Vancouver for the fewest regulation losses on home ice in the League. Tonight, the Predators will be looking to post at least 23 wins at Bridgestone Arena for the sixth time since 2005-06, something that only two other teams (Detroit and New Jersey) can accomplish. Nashville has the second-most home wins (153) behind only the Red Wings (157) in that span.
Much of the Predators home success is due to its defense and penalty killing. The Predators have allowed more than two goals only six times through 37 home games, and have the League’s best goals-against average on home ice (2.08). And though they’ve allowed five power-play goals in their last four home games, the home PK still ranks fifth on home ice (86.7 percent).
TWO OF THE BEST
The Predators hit the 40-win mark for the sixth consecutive season last Thursday vs. Anaheim, joining Detroit and San Jose as the only teams to hit the 40-win mark in each season since 2005-06. Calgary (38 wins) and New Jersey (34 wins) are the only other teams that can attain the feat. The Preds have the fifth-most wins in the NHL since the start of 2005-06 (269), behind only Detroit (301), San Jose (291), New Jersey (274) and Vancouver (274). In addition to both of tonight’s teams ranking in the Top Five in wins since 2005-06, they also rank No. 1 (Vancouver, 2.24) and No. 2 (Nashville, 2.30) in the battle for the Jennings Trophy, which goes to the team with the fewest goals allowed.
KOSTITSYN, LEGWAND’S STREAKS HIT SIX
In posting his first two-goal game since March 3, 2009 vs. Edmonton, David Legwand extended his current point streak to a career-best six games on Saturday, while Sergei Kostitsyn’s active point streak also hit six with an assist on Mike Fisher’s first of two second-period goals. Legwand has nine points (6g-3a) and a +7 rating during the streak, including shorthanded markers in back-to-back contests. He’s played more than 22:30 on four occasions during the streak, and leads all club forwards in average ice time (18:39) and plus/minus rating (+17). In the past 15 games, the Detroit native has posted 18 points (8g-10a), and he’s averaging more than a point per game over the last 22 contests (10g-13a-23pts).
Kostitsyn now has three point streaks spanning six games or more since Dec. 1 after posting no longer than a four-game streak (2g-2a, Dec. 20-27, 2007) in his first 174 NHL contests. The current one has seen him rack up eight points (3g-5a), moving into a tie for the team goal-scoring lead (19) and third in team points (43). Since Dec. 1, the Novopolotsk, Belarus native has 40 points (17g-23a) in 52 games. In his previous 122 games from the start of the 2008-09 season to Nov. 30, 2010 vs. Phoenix, Kostitsyn posted 44 points (17g-27a).
VEZINA CANDIDATE RINNE HOLDS THE OPPOSITION UNDER THREE AGAIN Pekka Rinne made his 36th start in the last 40 games on Saturday, stopping 28-of-30 shots and therefore holding the opposition to two goals or fewer for the 24th time in that span. While he has posted the League’s second-best goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.929) this season, his numbers are even better since the start of the 36-start stretch on New Year’s Eve. He has 22 wins in that span – second in the NHL – with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.
PLAYER QUICK HITS Martin Erat has points in nine of his last 12 games, amassing five goals and eight helpers in that span. In 26 games since Feb. 1, the Trebic, Czech Republic native has 25 points (9g-16a) and is just two points shy of becoming the second 400-point man in franchise history (138g-260a)… Shea Weber posted an assist to move past Scott Hartnell and into sole possession of 10th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list (80g-132a-212pts) and remain tied with Erat for the team points lead (46). It is the second-highest point total of his career, and puts him ninth among NHL defensemen. Sixteen of the Sicamous, B.C., native’s points are goals, tying him for second among blueliners in 2010-11, and tied for first with Washington’s Mike Green in goals since the start of the 2006-07 campaign (78). He also ranks third at the position in shots (239), fourth in hits (205). Weber has played the third-most minutes in the League this season (1,925:12), behind only Jay Bouwmeester (2,005:21) and Duncan Keith (1,987:57, prior to Monday’s game)… Patric Hornqvist has posted three two-assist performances in the last five games; he has seven points (1g-6a) in that span. Hornqvist is just one point shy of 100 career points (51g-48a)… An assist on Saturday gave Ryan Suter seven helpers in his last six games. The Madison, Wis., native leads the team and ranks among the Top 15 blueliners in assists (34). He’s also tied for ninth in the NHL in plus/minus rating (+27) after posting a +21 rating in 39 games since Dec. 31. That is tied for third-highest since that date… Joel Ward is one point shy of 100 for his career.