Tuesday’s clash of division rivals carries extra importance for both the Nashville Predators and the host Winnipeg Jets as both clubs try to get back into the playoff race.
The Jets hold a one-point advantage over the Predators in the standings, yet neither team would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Both sides are badly in need of a win to catch the top three teams in the Central Division, and the Jets sit three points behind the Arizona Coyotes entering Monday for the final Western Conference wild-card berth.
Winnipeg finds itself in an unwelcome situation after posting a 2-7-0 record over its last nine games, though the club snapped a five-game losing streak on Saturday. Jack Roslovic recorded two goals and an assist as the Jets earned a 5-2 victory over the first-place St. Louis Blues.
It was a much-needed return to the win column for the Jets, especially after a tough 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins the previous day.
“I think we liked the way we played against Boston but couldn’t get any points. … Hopefully we can get some confidence from (Saturday’s win),” Jets forward Patrik Laine said to reporters. “The schedule is not getting any easier, so hopefully (we) take all the good things we did from those games and try to bring them to the next two.”
Those upcoming games pit Winnipeg against two division rivals in the Predators and, on Thursday, a rematch against the Blues in St. Louis. The Jets have an 8-6-3 record against Central Division opponents this season.
That mark includes a split in two previous meetings with the Predators. The Jets recorded a 2-1 win in Nashville on Nov. 19, but the Predators returned the favor with a 1-0 shutout victory in Winnipeg on Jan. 12.
These results are symbolic of the struggles that both teams have had on their home ice, just a season after both Winnipeg and Nashville were two of the NHL’s toughest destinations for visiting clubs. The Jets’ win over the Blues brought Winnipeg’s home record to 12-12-2 this season. The Predators are 13-9-3 on the road but only 11-11-4 in Nashville, including last Saturday’s 3-0 shutout loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
“You don’t even want to think about it,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said about his team’s difficulties in home games.
Given their place in the standings, Rinne feels his team needs to increase its intensity no matter where the Predators are playing.
“Every game for us is (the) playoffs,” Rinne said. “We’ll be battling for our lives and we’ve got to realize that it’s not going to be easy. But these games, (they are) just massive.”
Tuesday’s game is the first of a four-game road trip through Canada for the Predators.
Rinne saved 36 of 38 shots against the Golden Knights, and he is likely to get the start again on Tuesday even though backup Juuse Saros started Nashville’s previous two outings against the Jets.
Connor Hellebuyck is the probable starter for Winnipeg, after Hellebuyck snapped a personal three-game losing streak with a 38-save performance against St. Louis. Hellebuyck has been dominant over his last four games against Nashville dating back to last season, posting a 3-1-0 record with a .978 save percentage and 0.75 goals-against average.
Nashville forward Calle Jarnkrok is questionable for Tuesday after missing the Predators’ last two games due to illness.