NHL Hockey

Predators aim to continue strong play versus Penguins

Some of the pressure is off for the Nashville Predators going into their game Friday against the host Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.

The Predators (43-28-6) clinched a playoff spot Monday for a franchise-record fifth year in a row with a 1-0 win at Minnesota.

"Everybody goes into a year with good intentions, and everybody has a plan in mind, and I'm sure they're all including the playoffs," coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's not an easy thing and should never be taken for granted, but our guys worked hard and we got to this point. We have to continue to work on our game and get ready."

That last sentiment was popular around the Predators locker room. They can still clinch home ice for the start of the postseason, perhaps a Central Division title.

"It's a great accomplishment, and it's something to be very proud of," Ryan Johansen said of qualifying for the playoffs, "but at the same time, we have a goal in mind and there's a lot of work ahead still. We're going to keep our foot down."

Nashville also hopes to use its final five games to prepare for the looming postseason.

"That was a big thing for us to clinch the playoff spot, and then just focus on getting better," Juuse Saros said.

The Predators are 6-3-1 over their past 10 games. The shootout loss in that stretch came against Pittsburgh, 2-1, March 21 in Nashville.

In that game, Ryan Ellis scored with 3:01 left in regulation, only to have the Penguins' Sidney Crosby score the only goal in the shootout.

"It was a back-and-forth battle, and it was a fast game," Ellis said. "Parts of the game they brought it to us, and parts of the game we brought it to them."

Pittsburgh (42-24-11), which also has been off since Monday, has won three straight. The Penguins haven't clinched a playoff spot but are sitting in pretty good position in the Metropolitan, with a division title still possible.

"It's been pretty tight all year long," Crosby said. "The fact that we have a chance is great. We have to continue to play the same way, but we've given ourselves a chance, and that's all you can really ask for."

The Penguins purposefully packed a brief practice based on skills and individual work, a full day off and a practice into their three days between games.

"These last five games are going to happen in a hurry," Matt Cullen said. "Hopefully, we find ourselves in a good spot, and get ready for some more hockey. It's a good opportunity here to catch your breath a bit and recharge and get back at it."

Pittsburgh is dealing with some injuries. The most likely to be ready to return Friday is defenseman Olli Maatta, who has been out 21 games because of a shoulder injury.

Coach Mike Sullivan is "hopeful" Maatta will be cleared to play, but there is a question over whether he will crack the lineup even if he is ready.

The Penguins have been happy with their defensive pairings, which break down in a perfect righty-lefty split. Even though top defenseman Kris Letang is expected to remain out Friday because of an upper-body injury, his replacement, Zach Trotman, is a right-handed shot like Letang, while Maatta is a lefty.

"I think the decision we have to make is what are the best pairs that complement the group?" Sullivan said.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 28, 2019

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