With home-ice advantage in the opening round of the NHL playoffs still up for grabs, Barry Trotz has no fear of a letdown.
“I think we’ve known we were going to be in the playoffs so it wasn’t like there was a ‘We’re finally in’ that type of thing,” the Nashville Predators coach said Thursday morning. “In the past, when we got into Game 82 and you win, there’s an exhale — trust me because you’re holding your breath for about three weeks at the end of the season.
“It’s sort of a little different than in the past.”
Nashville clinched its seventh playoff appearance in eight seasons when the San Jose Sharks lost on Wednesday night.
Five games remain in the regular season, beginning Friday at Detroit (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) in a game that might determine where the Predators open the postseason. They are back home Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Red Wings currently are fourth in the Western Conference standings and appear to be the most likely first-round opponent for Nashville, which is in fifth. Detroit is one point up in the standings, but the Predators are one up in the first tiebreaker (combined regulation and overtime wins) if it comes to that.
Nashville never has finished ahead of Detroit in the final standings.
“Home ice is the biggest thing,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “It doesn’t matter who we finish ahead of or who we finish behind. It’s about trying to get home ice and trying to finish as high as you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s Detroit, Chicago or whoever.”
Because it’s Detroit, the motivation to secure home-ice for the best-of-seven series — assuming it happens — is that much greater. The Red Wings are tied with St. Louis for the most wins at home this season (30) and not long ago set the NHL record for most consecutive wins at home.
The teams already have met twice in the playoffs (2004 and 2008). Nashville is 0-6 all-time in playoff games at Joe Louis Arena.
“They’ve been a hurdle for everybody,” Trotz said. “For us, we’ve met them twice in the playoffs and at that point in time, where we were as teams, they were a deeper team, a more experienced team. They were, in terms of depth and experience and all that, they probably had a big advantage and we played them well.
“I think it’s more even now than it has been, maybe, in the past. It’s a big game because of the fact that we’re fighting for home-ice advantage, no question. But it’s not the end-all be-all. I have no problem going into the Joe and winning hockey games as a franchise, if we have to do that.”
They don’t necessarily have to win this one, but it sure wouldn’t hurt.
• Leading scorer Martin Erat and defenseman Roman Josi are expected to play Friday at Detroit.
Both have missed time recently with injuries. Erat (57 points) has not played since Saturday. Josi has been out since March 10.
“Getting them back [now] is good timing actually,” Trotz said. “It’s perfect.”
• Defenseman Anthony Bitetto, a sixth-round draft choice (168th overall) in 2010 signed a two-year entry-level contract Wednesday.
The 20-year-old recently completed his sophomore season at Northeastern University. In two years he had 35 points (seven goals, 28 assists) in 72 games.
He is the third player of the six Nashville drafted in 2010 to sign with the team.