For the Columbus Blue Jackets Jakob Silfverberg Jersey , it’s about playoff positioning.
For the Nashville Predators, it’s about fun and tuning up for what they hope will be a long playoff run.
Saturday night’s regular-season finale in Bridgestone Arena can make the difference between a potential first-round series with two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh for Columbus (45-29-7) or maybe falling all the way to a wild card and a matchup with a division champion.
As for Nashville (52-18-11), it took care of its remaining regular-season business in one fell swoop Thursday night. Shortly after clinching the Central Division title and the Western Conference’s top seed with a 4-3 win in Washington, the Predators watched the end of Boston’s 3-2 loss in Florida on locker room TVs.
That assured Nashville of the league’s top regular-season record, which means it will have home-ice advantage for any playoff series. Or to put it another way, if it carries its home games, it will hoist the Cup for the first time in franchise history.
“All year we’ve talked about doing the best we can and it’s always been just about home ice,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “The guys did an incredible job of staying really focused and fairly consistent with their game, and because of it, we sit where we sit.”
Which means Nashville has earned the right to play this game any way it sees fit. It can play to win, it can play some of its mainstays to keep them sharp, or it can rest everyone and basically call up its AHL affiliate from Milwaukee for the night.
Laviolette is tight-lipped under any circumstance, and with the playoffs looming, doubly so. Don’t expect any big pronouncements concerning a lineup until Saturday’s morning skate, if then Youth Brandon Sutter Jersey , but it wouldn’t be surprising if multiple regulars got the “maintenance night” treatment they’ve received during the last month.
“It’s big for the organization,” said right winger Craig Smith, who scored two goals Thursday night. “A lot of guys have put in a lot of hard work and a lot of time to produce a season like that. We’re having fun with each other and holding each other accountable to get out there and play for each other, so it’s great.”
While the Predators can treat this game however they desire, the Blue Jackets are likely chasing the two points. Even though they’ll open the Eastern Conference playoffs on the road, they’re at least in there, clinching despite Thursday night’s 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.
This will be the first time that Columbus has made consecutive playoff appearances.
“We were the youngest team in the league most of the year,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “If you want to continue to build your organization and find your way and be that team that’s going to be there all the time, you have to experience it. You can’t be in one year, lose in five games and then take two years to be back in it.”
Nashville is looking for a sweep in the season series. It posted a 3-1 win on Nov. 7 in Columbus, scoring two goals in the last five minutes.
Taylor Hall had just scored two more goals in another big New Jersey Devils victory when his general manager asked him a simple question.
”I said, `Taylor, what’d you get tonight?”’ Ray Shero recalled. ”He goes, `We got two points is what we got.’ He had a smile on his face. And I knew he was not going to say two goals. I knew it. We got two points.”
That’s what Shero wanted to hear from the player most responsible for New Jersey’s turnaround from lottery afterthought to playoff contender. Hall is without a doubt the Devils’ most valuable player but he is one of about a dozen candidates for the overall NHL honor. The race for the Hart Trophy is one of the most crowded, convoluted and subjective in decades.
An MVP case can be made for Hall Womens Tom Pyatt Jersey , Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Los Angeles‘ Anze Kopitar, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Boston’s Brad Marchand, Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. The award is given to ”the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”
Reigning Hart winner McDavid leads the league in points and should take home the player-voted Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player, but the Oilers have long been out of playoff race, hurting his candidacy to some extent and showing how valuable the other contenders are.
Shero said matter-of-factly the Devils ”wouldn’t be in the race” without Hall. The same can be said for the Avalanche without MacKinnon, the Capitals without Ovechkin and the Flyers without Giroux.
”Offensively, he’s such a big part of how we generate goals,” Ovechkin teammate T.J. Oshie said. ”Whether he’s scoring them or not, when he’s on the ice Youth Brandon Carlo Jersey , he’s a concern for the other team. Where we’d be at? I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
Washington won the Metropolitan Division for the third consecutive year thanks in large part to Ovechkin after losing Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk from a group that captured the Presidents’ Trophy last season. Ovechkin averages 20 minutes a night, has scored 18.7 percent of the Capitals’ goals and leads the league with 46 while not missing a single game.
Kopitar is another ironman who leads all NHL forwards in ice time, is fifth with 91 points and has the Kings on their way back to the playoffs. GM Rob Blake said Kopitar means ”pretty much everything” to Los Angeles, particularly because the two-way star has done it all most of the season without No. 2 center Jeff Carter.
”When I look at that MVP race and importance to a team, I think Kopi’s head and shoulders above everybody: to do what he’s had to do without the advantage of having Carter come back on the ice after,” Blake said. ”He had to go with Nick Shore and Adrian Kempe on the ice every shift after. He leads forwards in minutes. His defensive stats and some of the advanced stats show the commitment that he’s had, and it’s from day one.”
Two-way play extends to Giroux, who has put Philadelphia on his back at times. Giroux has a career-high 97 points – trailing only McDavid and Kucherov – has won 58.6 percent of faceoffs and run the power play and played the penalty kill for a team that has needed to get wins from four different goaltenders.
”When you talk about that type of an award there’s a lot more to it and G does a heck of a lot more for this hockey team than just score points,” coach Dave Hakstol said. ”And believe me it’s hard to score points in this league, so I’m not downplaying that. I’m telling you how important a lot of the other things he provides are to our hockey team.”
MacKinnon has provided a spark with 38 goals and 56 assists for the Avalanche, who are still fighting to make the playoffs.
”He’s a threat to shoot http://www.officialsenators.com/authentic-adidas-mike-hoffman-jersey , threat to take pucks to the net, delay and find people,” coach Jared Bednar said. ”He’s got a little bit more change of speed and change of gears on his attack this year.”
Given the success of the Lightning, Bruins, Penguins, Predators and Jets, it’s hard to discount Kucherov, Stamkos, Marchand, Malkin, Rinne and Wheeler. Even Vegas’ William Karlsson or Columbus’ Artemi Panarin could get some consideration.
While Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff thinks Wheeler has shown his value beyond his league-tying 67 assists, he knows nothing about the Hart is a slam dunk.
”It speaks volumes to the league and to the importance these players have on their team,” Cheveldayoff said.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed.