The Nashville Predators needed an assist from the world’s top boxer to get home on Sunday.
Now that they have arrived, they’re looking to deliver a knockout blow to at least one of the teams they’re currently battling for the final Western Conference playoff spots. Nashville plays four games in the next six days, the first three at home, which accounts for nearly one-third of their remaining regular season contests.
They begin that stretch Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) and then play six straight against teams from the West, including one each against St. Louis (Sunday) and Detroit (March 27), two of their primary rivals at the moment. Following Sunday’s games, Nashville was in seventh place, Detroit was in eighth and St. Louis was in 10th.
“Right now, I’d say it’s four teams for two spots,” coach Barry Trotz said. “By the end of this week, things could be even clearer. If things go right, you can really take care of business.”
Things went very well for the Predators on their four-game road trip — right up until it was time to come back home, that is. Then they got a little punchy.
They had won three of four games and all three victories were by a single goal. That made them the fourth team in the West to win 20 road games this season. Only once previously in franchise history did they win at least 20 road games in a season (23 in 2006-07).
But following the last of those triumphs — a 3-2 victory Sunday at Los Angeles — a mechanical issue with their plane delayed their return.
When the issue could not be fixed promptly, they were forced to wait on the flight of boxer Manny Pacquiao and his entourage, which had chartered a flight from Dallas to Los Angeles with the same company the Predators used. Pacquiao furthered his reputation as his sport’s top pound-for-pound competitor with a unanimous decision victory over Joshua Clottey before more than 51,000 at Cowboys Stadium.
“We were on the bus (when the plane landed),” Trotz said. “We saw him get off the plane and into his vehicle. He was wearing sunglasses, so he must have taken a few shots.”
In a way, the same could be said of the Predators on that road trip.
In the big picture, the 3-1 record was an overwhelming success, particularly given the fact that it included a 1-0 victory Friday at Anaheim, where they had won just once in their previous nine tries.
A night earlier at San Jose, they absorbed a heavy blow, though, when they allowed six third-period goals and lost 8-5 after having led 4-2 at the end of the second period.
“After that game my main concern was (Sunday) afternoon,” Trotz said. “I talked about how great it would feel if, following the Los Angeles game, we were 3-1 on the trip.
“A loss like that really tears your heart out when you play a big game and lose it. … It can change your whole thought process. I kept it pretty even-keeled and tried to keep everyone thinking about what we still could accomplish and not look back on what happened.”
Looking ahead now, they have 13 games remaining — nine of which are at home. Thus, they won’t have to concern themselves with many more flights as they continue to fight for a playoff spot.
• Goalie Pekka Rinne was named the NHL’s third star of the week Monday. He was the winning goalie in the victories at Anaheim and Los Angeles. The 1-0 victory over the Ducks was the 11th shutout of his career.
Vancouver right wing Mikael Samuelsson and Phoenix right wing Lee Stempniak were the first and second stars of the week, respectively.
• Trotz said defenseman Denis Grebeshkov, who missed the last four games with a lower body injury, will not play Tuesday. Trotz said Grebeshkov has not yet started skating and no possible date for his return has been set.