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Unexpected win over Anaheim puts Preds’ slim playoff hopes in focus

“We need to be realistic,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said recently. “The moons have to absolutely align for us to somehow get in.”

If they win tonight, break out your telescopes.

The Nashville Predators tallied an unexpected win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks last night, 5-2. In doing so, they extended their hopes of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth time in 10 years.

Don’t get too excited, though. They extended their hopes. Not their likelihood.

Headed into Saturday’s game against the 49-20-9 San Jose Sharks, the Preds are seven points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Thanks to their shootout loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers last night, the Phoenix Coyotes hurdled the Dallas Stars for said eighth spot. Phoenix sits on 86 points with four games left. Dallas has 85 with six left.

Nashville has 79 with five remaining.

Put another way, the Predators have 10 points still on the table. The interesting thing about those 10 points, however, is that almost half of them will go to some combination of Nashville, Phoenix or Dallas.

Cliche would suggest that they’re “must-win games” but, while that’s true, they have to get through San Jose first. Headed into their final 10 games of the year, even an optimist would have pegged the Preds to lose both the Anaheim game and the San Jose game. But, with the win last night and a possible win tonight, all of a sudden, the games in Dallas on Tuesday and at home against the Coyotes on Thursday become gigantic events when it comes to Nashville’s playoff hopes.

Were the Preds to win tonight, they could wind up just five points back and staring at an opportunity to close the gap to one with success over the teams they need to hurdle, the Coyotes and Stars. Obviously, that’s all fantasy but, with a win tonight out in the Bay Area, it would become the main focus.

Even if they win, they’ll still need help, there’s no question about that. Just because they’re ahead of the 10th place Vancouver Canucks and 11th place Winnipeg Jets today doesn’t mean it’ll finish that way. Heck, even the surging Calgary Flames can catch them if the Flames run the table and the Preds collapse.

Other than Nashville, the Coyotes still have games against a desperate Columbus Blue Jackets team who may actually make the playoffs, the mighty Sharks and then a season finale showdown against — who else? — Dallas. The Stars will face a playoff-bound Tampa Bay Lightning club, the league’s second worst team in the Florida Panthers, the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues and then that Phoenix closer. In short, only the Florida game looks like an easy win for either team.

On top of their tough schedules, the Coyotes are 0-2-2 in their last four while the Stars are 5-2-0 in their last seven. For comparison, the Predators are 5-1-1 in their last seven and have even scored 29 goals during that span (4.14 goals/game average).

Nashville is surging at the right time. But is it too little, too late? We’ll find out tonight.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Fuqua (used with permission)

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