Predators' path to playoffs could be cleared as they wait, watch

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:34pm

The Nashville Predators endured — even thrived — during a recent stretch of seemingly one critical game after another.

Now they get to play the waiting game.

It’s true that nothing is guaranteed, but the issue no longer seems to be if Nashville will make the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, but when.

“All I know is we’ll know something on Sunday [the final day of the NHL regular season],” coach Barry Trotz said. “… We don’t have far to go.”

Most would think the moment that players and coaches know they will compete for the Stanley Cup could not come soon enough. Not so fast, say the Predators.

“We know its makes sense to play some good hockey down the stretch and not relax just because we got it clinched early,” center Mike Fisher said. “Sometimes you maybe tend to relax a little bit, and we can’t do that. We have to make sure we’re playing solid and keep going. We need more wins.

“But that’s a good thing going into the playoffs. We have to be sharp and keep getting better. We know we can get better for sure. “

It definitely was not going to happen Wednesday. Nothing that took place in the eight games on the docket could have — or did — create a scenario that guaranteed the Predators a spot in the Western Conference’s top eight.

It might happen Thursday, when the Dallas Stars open a stretch of three games in four nights to conclude the regular season. The Stars, the only team outside the top eight that still can catch Nashville, have to win each of their remaining contests and not more than one in a shootout. Two of those games are against Colorado and one against Minnesota — neither of which is involved in the playoff race.

Even one overtime loss by Dallas on Thursday, Friday or Sunday and the Predators have a postseason spot.

Of course, they also can take care of things themselves if they simply earn one point in either of their remaining two games — Friday at home against Columbus or Saturday at St. Louis.

“I think mentally we just have to be prepared to play 60 minutes and not look too far ahead of ourselves here,” right wing Jordin Tootoo said. “We’ve got to live in the moment, shift by shift. Obviously, we’ve got to make the most of it.

“Friday is going to be a big test for us. We need points. We want to win out the season here and, obviously, be as high as we can in the standings.”

The Predators were in fourth place at the start of play Wednesday, but the five teams between fifth and 10th all had one game in hand on Nashville. At that point, there still existed the possibility for them to finish anywhere from fourth to ninth on Sunday.

“We’ve got to work on some things, and correct some things — that’ll be paramount,” Trotz said. “Anybody who’s nicked up a little bit, we’ll try to get healed up right now. Then we’ll go after those two games — plain and simple.

“Whatever happens at that point, we’re either going to be in or we’re going to be out.”