… This is the sixth and final game between the Wings and Predators this season. It’s also the most important. The series stands at 3-2-0 in the Wings’ favor. Last month, this happened. But last time, the Wings had no late heroics, losing 3-2 in Nashville.
… Since then, the Predators have gone 4-4-1. They’ve lost pairs in a row twice, which will be the pattern the Wings will look to enforce again tonight: they lost their Tuesday matchup with the Blues after winning the prior two games.
… Since they’ve been idle all week, they haven’t had a chance to take advantage of the Wings’ falling on their faces Wednesday in Columbus. They’re just one point back of Detroit now and can take fourth with a win in regulation or extra time thanks to the ROW tie-breaker. This game has major implications for the final standings.
… Nashville would have to win out all in regulation or overtime to catch the Blues. Oh, and they’d need the Blues to lose each of their four remaining games in regulation.
… They clinched a playoff spot with the Ducks’ 3-1 win over the Sharks on Wednesday.
… Alexander Radulov has one goal and two assists since coming back from the KHL via a special dispensation from both Leagues. The Predators are 2-2-0 with their early/late Christmas present.
… Of note: Paul Gaustad was 65% in the circle last time we saw the Predators: 100% against Abdelkader and Helm (3/3), 57% against Hank (4/7) and 33% against Emmerton (1/3). Franzen beat him in their one matchup. Zetterberg was an awful 32% that night, while Helm and Emmerton led the team at 75% and 67%, respectively (not counting Cleary’s 2-for-2).
… The official site points out that Patric Hornqvist has put up seven goals and three assists in 12 games.
… Conveniently for the Predators, they’ve gotten healthy just in time for this game.
… Pekka Rinne will be the starter for the Predators.
… The Wings ended a skid at six games with a win Saturday over the Hurricanes. They kept at it with an emphatic win over the Blue Jackets Monday night. Then they fell off the wagon in Columbus Wednesday and lost to the worst team in hockey.
… Still, that pair of wins put them in fourth and was enough to keep them there with the week the Predators had. It also put them in the playoffs for the 21st straight year. But instead of going into this game with a three-point cushion, they risk falling behind. Should have stayed on the wagon.
… With the Blues’ shootout loss to the Hawks last night, the Central is not quite sewn up yet. Though they’d have to lose out (with no more than one point earned) and the Wings would have to win out to take it from them.
… It was, of course, an optional skate today, which either means too many guys are too banged up to hold a standard skate, even given the high stakes tonight, or they’re in denial about needing to fix anything. I’m not sure which is worse, quite frankly. I know which is more disappointing, but the other may be more worrying.
… Out of the skate, such as it was, however, came the news that still-not-meshing Kyle Quincey will be out. Babcock says it’s not him, it’s me, or something. Jakub Kindl will be in instead.
… And Gustav Nyquist will be in as well. He showed up at the morning skate, though I suspect it was less optional for him than the others. Here’s hoping he gets some decent ice time tonight.
… Jan Mursak’s the healthy scratch on the forward side.
… Babcock’s going with Jimmy Howard, which is the right decision if Jimmy’s actually all the way better. If Bedard and the medical staff cleared him, that’s a good sign. Ty Conklin will be the backup.
… This is as big as it gets in the regular season. The Wings seriously need home ice advantage if they can get it for any length of time and a win tonight is the first best step in getting it. The Predators are no joke, but the Wings don’t have to be either. If the team that showed up Monday makes it to the rink again tonight, it should be an epic battle leaning in their favor.
Otherwise… well, ask the Blackhawks how things went on Sunday.