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Predators look to clinch playoff berth vs. Flames

Apr 24, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators players celebrate after a goal by defenseman Dante Fabbro (57) during the third period against the Minnesota Wild at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators may be struggling down the stretch, but those frustrations can be washed away when they play host to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

The Predators (44-29-6, 94 points) are in a 3-4-2 slump and coming off Sunday’s disappointing 5-4 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild, but they can clinch a playoff spot with a regulation-time win over the Pacific Division-champion Flames (49-20-10, 108 points), regardless of the outcome of the Vegas-Dallas game also on Tuesday.

Between the opportunity to punch a ticket to the playoffs and the fact his team holds the Western Conference’s first wild-card playoff spot with three games remaining, coach John Hynes is keeping the situation as positive as possible even though they wound up on the wrong end of a back-and-forth game with the Wild.

“I just liked our mental toughness and I thought we stayed with things,” Hynes said. “We’re down a goal going into the third period, and I thought we stayed with it and played the way we needed to play and came up with a big play to be able to tie the game. There’s lots from that standpoint to be able to move forward with, for sure.”

Seeing the bright side is the best course of action for the Predators. After all, they are so close to advancing and anything is possible once the playoffs begin.

“We’ve kind of just got to wipe the slate clean here and start focusing on Calgary,” defenseman Dante Fabbro said. “I thought we played hard, and it’s a good team over there. It was definitely a playoff game out there.”

A 6-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday has the Flames, who have posted the second-highest point total in franchise history, on a 9-1-1 roll.

However, with memories of their disappointing finish in 2019 — after winning the Western Conference’s regular-season title, they were unceremoniously eliminated in five games by the Colorado Avalanche — they don’t plan to coast to the end of the campaign.

“We want to keep going here and have a good feeling before the playoffs,” forward Elias Lindholm said. “My first year here (2018-19) where we clinched early, it felt like we kind of slowed down a little bit before the playoffs started and it’s hard to turn it on again just like that. We’ve got to keep going and keep building our game.”

Amidst their strong season, the Flames have seen a litany of star players have outstanding campaigns. Johnny Gaudreau, whose next game will be the 600th of his career, has amassed 111 points, the second most in a season in franchise history, trailing only Kent Nilsson’s 131 points in 1980-81. Matthew Tkachuk has netted 40 goals and 101 points, while Lindholm recorded his first 40-goal, 80-point season.

But the superlatives don’t end there. Andrew Mangiapane has 35 goals, almost twice as many as his previous high, while all six regular defensemen have posted career numbers. Calgary is even seeing breakouts from lesser-known players, such as Dillon Dube, who has a career-best 16 goals, with six of them in the last six games.

“I just needed to be a lot better for this team going into the final stretch,” Dube said. “To elevate my game to get ready for playoffs and try to get into that spot. I needed to be a lot better.”

–Field Level Media