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Predators face tall order vs. Panthers in pursuit of franchise-record streak

Mar 19, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi (59) skates onto the ice for a power play during the third period at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators can set a franchise record on Thursday night.

But it won’t be easy.

The Predators (40-25-4, 84 points), who have a record-tying 15-game point streak, will visit the mighty Florida Panthers (45-19-4, 94) in Sunrise on Thursday.

Indeed, as of Wednesday morning, the only team in the NHL with more points than Florida is the Boston Bruins.

Nashville, now in its first season being coached by former Panthers interim boss Andrew Brunette, had its eight-year streak of making the playoffs broken last season.

This season, the Predators lead the Western Conference’s wild-card race. That’s a credit in large part to defenseman Roman Josi and forwards Filip Forsberg, Gustav Nyquist and Ryan O’Reilly.

Josi, who won the Norris Trophy in 2020 as the NHL’s top defenseman, leads the Predators with 52 assists and ranks second in points (70).

Forsberg leads the Predators in goals (36) and points (74). With 13 games left, he is closing in on his personal records for goals (42), assists (42) and points (84) set in the 2021-22 season.

Nyquist (60) and O’Reilly (56) close out Nashville’s top scorers.

As for defensemen, besides Josi, the Predators feature two-time Stanley Cup champ Ryan McDonagh. Luke Schenn, a defensive defenseman, has just six points in 50 games, but he gives the unit size at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds.

Nashville’s Juuse Saros leads all NHL goalies this season in games (55) and starts (55). He is 30-21-4 with a 2.78 goals-against average.

Overall, this looks like a playoff team.

“I’m really proud of this group,” Brunette said after Nashville defeated the San Jose Sharks 8-2 on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are in a mini slump with two straight losses: 4-0 at Carolina and 5-3 at home to Tampa Bay.

The Panthers on Thursday will be without defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who drew a two-game suspension by the NHL for an illegal check/elbow to the head of Tampa Bay’s Conor Sheary.

The Panthers are also without defenseman Aaron Ekblad due to injury.

That leaves the Panthers with a group of defensemen that includes Gustav Forsling (35 points), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (28), Brandon Montour (27) and Niko Mikkola (13). Josh Mahura (seven) and one other defenseman will be forced into action.

On the positive side for the Panthers, they have Sam Reinhart, who leads the NHL with 27 power-play goals.

Reinhart, an unrestricted free agent following this season, ranks second in the league in overall goals with 48.

In addition, Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (32-14-2, 2.35 GAA) leads the Eastern Conference in wins.

Florida also has top forwards such as Matthew Tkachuk, Carter Verhaeghe and Aleksander Barkov. Tkachuk leads the team with 54 assists; Verhaeghe is second on the squad with 30 goals; and Barkov, who is tied for third on the squad with 66 points, is one of the NHL’s top two-way forwards.

Still, Panthers coach Paul Maurice would like to see more from his team on Thursday.

“The key to our game is our reaction to change of possession, which is elite,” Maurice said. “But we haven’t been (the past two games).”

–Field Level Media

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