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Predators brace for stern challenge from Panthers

Apr 7, 2022; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros (74) stretches prior to the start of the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators aim to strengthen their hold on the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference on Saturday when they host the Florida Panthers.

It will be a tall task for the Predators (41-25-4, 86 points), as the high-octane Panthers (50-15-6, 106 points) are the highest-scoring team in the league.

Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau leads the NHL with a career-high 77 assists.

“It’s been a fun year,” Huberdeau said, “and it’s going to get more fun. We haven’t done anything in the playoffs (yet).”

The Predators, who have won four of their past five games, are hoping to join the Panthers in the postseason.

Nashville ranks 12th in the league in average goals allowed per game (2.87). The Predators figure to have quite a challenge trying to slow down a Panthers offense that boasts seven forwards with at least 20 goals this season, led by the 34 from captain Aleksander Barkov.

In the only matchup between the teams this season, the Panthers received goals from Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, Aaron Ekblad and Radko Gudas. The Predators, however, scored the last three goals to rally to a 6-4 win in that game on Feb. 22.

One thing the Predators will try to do to slow down the Panthers is to play a physical game.

“It’s our identity,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “Sometimes if there’s not a lot of testosterone, it’s hard for us to get going.”

The guy who gets the Predators going is captain Roman Josi, who has already set a Nashville single-season record with 87 points. The defenseman has 68 assists in 68 games, and his 87 points eclipsed the record of 85 set by Paul Kariya in 2005-06.

Matt Duchene is riding a five-game point streak (three goals, five assists).

For the season, Duchene is second on the Predators in goals (37) and points (74). He also leads the team in power-play goals with 14.

Filip Forsberg leads Nashville with 38 goals and ranks third on the team in points (70).

Nashville will be the more rested team on Saturday as the Panthers played on Friday night, posting their sixth straight win with a 4-3 victory over the visiting Buffalo Sabres. Bennett converted a feed from Barkov to score the go-ahead goal with 38 seconds left in the game.

Sergei Bobrovsky made 19 saves as Florida rallied from a 3-1 deficit.

But due to the rest issue, there’s a good chance the Panthers will start backup goalie Spencer Knight on Saturday. Knight is 16-8-3 with a 2.91 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage this season.

The Predators beat Bobrovsky with five goals on 32 shots in that game earlier this season.

On the other hand, Knight got the win last season in his only matchup against Nashville. Florida won that game 7-4. Bobrovsky started, but Knight came on in relief, stopping all nine shots he faced. Florida scored the game’s final four goals.

–Field Level Media