Tonight is the first of eight games between the Wings and Predators this season. The November 21 game in Detroit was postponed after Jiri Fischer collapsed during the first period while on the bench
, his heart stopping. The game was later rescheduled for January 23 in Detroit
, which was at first a Nashville home game, with a March 30 game in Nashville replacing their home game.
The last time they played each other for a full game, the Wings finished up the first round of the playoffs with a 2-0 shutout win
on April 17, 2004.
The Wings have won six of their last seven games, including a 3-0 win against St Louis last night
. Manny Legace made his return to the ice, notching the shutout on only 15 shots. Captain Steve Yzerman also returned after a month-long absence, and got some quality ice time on a line with Cleary and Holmstrom (10:03 total). Lidstrom, who has been breaking 30 minutes of ice time more than the Wings would like with Fischer and Kronwall out of the lineup, got a bit of a break with only 25:15 of ice time. He had 31:24 of ice time Tuesday versus the Wild.
The Wings are 12-1-0 against Central Division foes, but now the Wings' true test starts with the five games versus the Predators before the Olympic Break, and eight total before the playoffs start (that's 8 of 42 remaining games). These games could very well determine whether the Wings are a #1 or #4 seed come playoff time. Says Zetterberg:
"It's huge. We've got eight games against them and 16 points to play for. Probably the guys who win the most games is going to be above in the standings, so it's going to be really important to win those games."
Says Coach Babcock:
"We have an eight-game playoff series. We're excited about it. They have a real good team. Let's get there and get going."
The Predators are also coming off a win versus the Blues, a 4-3 decision on Wednesday. Goaltender Chris Mason was pulled in favor of Tomas Vokoun after giving up two goals on three shots. Previous to that game, the streaky Predators had lost four straight, including close bouts with Vancouver and Edmonton.
The Predators trail the Wings 57-53 in the Central Division points race, so tonight's game is an important one for both teams. Nashville has one game in hand. Vokoun will likely get the start tonight, facing off against Manny Legace, who is fresh off an easy shutout versus the Blues last night.
The Wings lead the league with a 24.9% power play efficiency, and are tied for second in penalty killing at 85.4%. The Predators, however, are only 13th in the league on the power play at 18.2%, with a 84.8% penalty killing mark that has them tied for fifth in the league. The Wings are 13-4-2 on the road, and the Predators are 16-4-0 at home.