TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. ST. LOUIS
After seeing each other five times in the season’s first three months – including four times in Nashville’s first 20 games of 2010-11 – the Predators and St. Louis Blues finally close out their season series in game No. 82 for both squads. Nashville is 2-2-1 through five games having lost the most recent meeting 2-0 the day after Christmas at Scottrade Center (Dec. 26) and falling 2-1 in a shootout in the Blues’ final visit of the season to Bridgestone Arena the day before American Thanksgiving (Nov. 24) after winning two of the first three matchups. On Dec. 26, Jaroslav Halak recorded his second shutout of the season series, and on Nov. 24, the Bluenotes prevailed despite being outshot 30-15 – the lowest shot total by a Predators opponent this season.
Nashville’s wins in the series came in its second home game of the season on Oct. 14 and in its first visit to Gateway City on Nov. 11. The Oct. 14 tilt saw Nashville win by one goal for the second straight night after beating Chicago in the Windy City 24 hours earlier. Steve Sullivan notched a pair of first-period goals and Patric Hornqvist netted the game winner late in the second period in the 4-3 victory, improving Nashville’s record to 3-0-0 on the young season. On Nov. 11 in St. Louis, the Preds gave up the first goal of the game, and trailed 2-1 until a J-P Dumont goal at 13:08 of the third. Five minutes of overtime and four shootout rounds later, Nashville not only broke a five-game losing streak with a 3-2 win, but started a hot streak, going 12-3-3 in its next 18 games.
On Scottrade Center ice, the Predators have won five-of-six matchups since Feb. 21, 2010, with four of the five victories decided by a single goal; two were shootout wins and another came in overtime.
Close games have not only been a theme in the Lou, but also in the Music City, with 14 of the last 20 meetings being decided by one goal. Nine of those required overtime/a shootout. Nashville is 14-6-0 in the road portion of the series dating back to the start of the 2005-06 campaign, and holds a 29-8-4 overall record in that span. All-time, Nashville has gone to extra time with St. Louis a club-high 20 times. The Predators are 10-6-4 in those games, with all 10 wins coming since the start of 2005-06. Additionally, Nashville and St. Louis have gone to a shootout nine times, tied with Anaheim vs. Los Angeles and New Jersey vs. N.Y. Rangers for the most shootout contests between a pair of teams. Nashville is 6-3 in those games.
Cal O’Reilly leads all Predators in points against St. Louis this season with four (1g-3a) through five games. He scored Nashville’s first goal in the Nov. 11 win and tied a career high in points/assists with three helpers on Oct. 14. O’Reilly also notched one of the team’s two shootout tallies in their Nov. 11 win… Hornqvist has nine points (4g-5a) in 11 career games against the Blues. He made his NHL debut against the Blues on Oct. 10, 2008, and notched a career-high three assists in a 3-2 victory at Scottrade Center on April 1, 2010… Sullivan’s goals on Oct. 14 were the 20th and 21st of his career against the Bluenotes. That is his highest goal total against any of the NHL’s 30 teams. Sullivan has 49 points (21g-28a) in 60 career games vs. St. Louis, also his highest point total against any team… Jordin Tootoo has seen more offensive success against the Blues than any other NHL team. The Rankin Inlet, Nunavut native has 13 points (6g-7a) in 32 career games against St. Louis – he has no more than three goals against any other club. With 21 penalty minutes in the first two matchups of 2010-11 with St. Louis, he now has 89 career penalty minutes against the Blues – the second-most for a single player against a single team in franchise history… Pekka Rinne is 8-4-2 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage against St. Louis for his career, and his numbers are even better at Scottrade Center, where he’s gone 5-2-0 with a 1.97 GAA… Anders Lindback made his first home start, and collected his second career win, in his only game vs. St. Louis.
NASHVILLE CLINCHES SIXTH PLAYOFF BERTH IN LAST SEVEN SEASONS
With their 44th win of the season – helping them reach 99 points – the Nashville Predators clinched their sixth playoff berth in the past seven seasons on Friday vs. Columbus, joining New Jersey, Philadelphia, Montreal, San Jose and Detroit as the only teams to achieve the feat. Fresh off of a four-game West Coast swing and heading into its March 10 game against Minnesota, Nashville sat 11th in the Western Conference with a 33-24-10 record and 76 points. Since then, the Predators have gone 11-2-1, moving all the way up to fourth in the West. Nashville entered the contest vs. the Wild with 163 non-shootout goals in 67 games (2.43), but since then, has scored 50 goals in 14 games (3.57).
Additionally, the Preds have amassed the League’s fifth-highest win total since 2005-06 (272), and are one of just four teams (with Detroit, San Jose and Calgary) to reach the 40-win mark in each of the last six seasons.
HORNQVIST BECOMES NASHVILLE’S SECOND 20-GOAL SCORER Patric Hornqvist hit the 20-goal plateau with his first of two markers on Friday vs. Columbus, making him the second Predators draft pick to record 20-or-more goals in back-to-back seasons. It was the Sollentuna, Sweden native’s team-leading fourth multi-goal performance of the season, and comes just one game after he tied a career high – and a high by a Predator this season – with three assists against Atlanta on Tuesday. Hornqvist also assisted on Nashville’s fourth goal, and has 14 points (3g-11a) in his last 10 games.
KOSTITSYN HITS 50 POINTS, EXTENDS POINT STREAK TO 11 GAMES Sergei Kostitsyn scored Nashville’s fourth and final goal in Friday’s playoff-clinching victory over Columbus, making him the team’s second 50-point man and extending his active point streak to 11 games – the second longest in franchise history and tied for the third longest in the National Hockey League this season. Kostitsyn has 15 points (7g-8a) during the streak, which started March 17, moving him into sole possession of the goal-scoring lead (23) and into a tie for the club lead in points (50). The Novopolotsk, Belarus native had never recorded a point streak longer than four games (2g-2a, Dec. 20-27, 2007) in his first 174 NHL contests, but now has three point streaks spanning six games or more since Dec. 1, amassing 47 points (21g-26a) in 57 games since then. Prior to the current stretch, he had 48 points (17g-31a) in his previous 133 games from March 13, 2008 to Nov. 30, 2010. The record for consecutive games with a point is held by J-P Dumont (16 games, 8g-14a-22pts from Dec. 29, 2007-Jan. 31, 2008).
Kostitsyn has scored his 23 goals on just 93 shots – 40 fewer than the next highest shot total among the 65 NHLers with 23-or-more tallies. He leads the League in shooting percentage (24.7).
FISHER ROUNDS OUT THE TRIO
Centering the Hornqvist/Kostitsyn line is Mike Fisher, who extended a point streak of his own on Friday with an assist. The Peterborough, Ont., native has points in six straight, amassing eight points (4g-4a) in that span. He had four points (1g-3a) in his first 20 games with Nashville upon being acquired from Ottawa on Feb. 10. Fisher was also a +3 vs. Columbus and has now finished with a plus or even rating in 17 of the last 19 games, helping the club to a 13-3-3 mark in that span.
RINNE STANDS ON HIS HEAD… AGAIN
Hart and Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne set a career high with his 33rd victory of the season against Columbus by stopping 44-of-45 shots, earning him First Star honors. The win total is the third best in franchise history, just one shy of Tomas Vokoun’s 34 victories in 2003-04 for second. Rinne lowered his goals-against average to 2.11, third in the NHL, and upped his save percentage to .930, second in the League, with the performance. Since Dec. 31, the Kempele, Finland native has seen action in 41 of Nashville’s 45 games, allowing two goals or fewer 27 times in that span while posting 25 wins, second-highest in the League. He has a goals-against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .936 in that 41-game span.
PLAYER QUICK HITS
Playing on a line centered by Jerred Smithson, Jordin Tootoo and rookie Matt Halischuk each picked up points on Friday to extend hot streaks. Halischuk scored his first career game-winning goal against the Blue Jackets to stretch his point streak to five straight games in which he’s dressed going back to March 19 (2g-4a), and points in seven of nine since March 10 (3g-5a). Prior to the nine-game stretch, Halischuk had seven points (2g-5a) in 38 career NHL games. Tootoo has points in three straight games played (missing one to injury), and seven points (4g-3a) in his last six games after posting a single assist in his previous 19 games played… Martin Erat notched an assist on Tuesday to become the club’s first 50-point player. It is the fourth time in the last five campaigns he has reached 50 points, and the seventh consecutive season he has posted at least 49 points. With points (2g-2a) in three straight, the Trebic, Czech Republic native now has 17 points (7g-10a) in 16 games since March 3, and 29 points (11g-18a) in 30 games since the All-Star break…. Ryan Suter has nine points (1g-8a) in his last 11 games, giving him 17 points (3g-14a) in 27 games since Feb. 5. Suter is just one point shy of his second career 40-point campaign (4g-35a), while his assist total is just three shy of his personal best… David Legwand has nine points (6g-3a) in his last 11 games, and 23 points (10g-13a) in 27 outings since Feb. 9… Joel Ward’s next point will be his 100th.
NOTES FROM LAST NIGHT’S GAME
The Predators improved to 13-8-2 against the Central Division and 9-4-0 in the first game of back-to-back situations. They are 6-5-1 in the second half… Nashville allowed two goals or fewer for the 46th time this season to lower its goals-against average to 2.32, third-best in the NHL… Nashville won by three goals or more for the 19th time this season. The team had just 11 wins by three or more in 2009-10 (5) and 2008-09 (6) combined… Nashville failed to score a power-play goal for the first time in four games. It is 4-for-18 (22.2 percent) in that span… The penalty kill was flawless for the fifth straight outing, and has gone 11-for-11 in the stretch. It now ranks fifth in the League at 84.9 percent… Nashville outscored the Blue Jackets 3-1 in the first 40 minutes, and has outscored its foes 23-7 in the first two periods of the last eight games. The Preds have notched a first-period marker 15 times in the last 16 outings, outscoring the opposition 23-7 in that span. For the season, the Preds have a +24 first-period goal differential, second-best in the NHL. They are tied for the third-most first-frame goals in the League (73), while giving up the second fewest (49). Nashville has scored a second-period goal in eight straight, outscoring the opposition 11-5 in that stretch. It has given up the fewest second-period goals (57) … Nashville improved to 41-4-2 when scoring three or more goals… The Preds scored two goals in a 54-second span in the second period (Halischuk at 1:48 and Hornqvist at 2:42), the third consecutive game they have scored twice in less than a minute to take a three-goal lead.