Predators put win streak on the line vs. Ducks
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In the middle of setting a franchise record, Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette is using the season's remainder to take a big-picture look at getting his team its healthiest for what it thinks will be another long playoff run.
As Nashville won its ninth straight game Tuesday night with a 2-0 blanking of Dallas, it sat captain Roman Josi (upper-body injury) for a third consecutive contest and gave second-line center Kyle Turris what amounted to a maintenance day.
No matter the lineup, the Predators will be a tough out for anyone they face, even a surging team such as the Anaheim Ducks, who start a brief but key road trip Thursday night when they look to avoid a season sweep at Nashville's hands in Bridgestone Arena.
Anaheim (34-21-12) won for the seventh time in nine games Tuesday night, blanking Washington 4-0 to move into second place in the Pacific Division with 80 points. During that stretch, the Ducks lead the NHL with a 1.75 goals-against average.
They bear little resemblance to the injury-ravaged team the Predators beat twice in the 2017 portion of the schedule, but then again, neither does Nashville. That team has morphed from one finding its way into one on a hot streak into one that's stamped itself as the Western Conference favorite.
"It's nice to be able to look at what we have going on there and continue to move things around and find ways to win," Laviolette said.
Tuesday night bore that out.
Held to fewer than three goals for the first time in their winning streak, the Predators leaned on defense and goalie Pekka Rinne until they found a way to beat Kari Lehtonen. New acquisition Ryan Hartman did it on a backhander early in the third period for his second game-winner in five contests with Nashville.
Rinne's 26 saves gave him his seventh shutout of the season and upped his record to 36-9-4. His 2.29 GAA and .928 save percentage should plant him squarely in the middle of Vezina Trophy discussion.
"I feel like it's almost a continuation of last year," he said about the team's success. "I think we have even more talent and more depth, and I think it shows. There's a lot more competition and guys are fighting for their spots, but still in a positive way."
On the other side of the ice, Anaheim has almost everyone back after skating through the season's first half with a mixture of role players and guys who figured to be spending the winter playing for its AHL team in San Diego.
With the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Cam Fowler at 100 percent, the Ducks have hit their stride in the season's homestretch.
Goalie John Gibson (25-15-6, 2.46, .927) posted his second shutout Tuesday night and did yeoman's work keeping the team competitive early in the season when it was short-handed.
"We know if we don't win now, our season is over," Gibson said of Anaheim's urgency. "There is definitely more pressure, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard."
This starts a crucial back-to-back set for the Ducks, who play in Dallas on Friday night against an equally desperate foe.
Updated March 8, 2018