Predators’ surge ahead of deadline proves it’s go-time in Nashville

Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros, of Finland, is congratulated by teammates after the Predators defeat the St. Louis Blues in an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in St. Louis. (Billy Hurst/AP)

A very short time ago, the Nashville Predators seemed undeclared in terms of how they would approach the NHL trade deadline. Would the on-the-bubble Preds double-down on their off-season moves by acquiring more players to try and push the team forward or — in the midst of a very disappointing season — would they toss a few bodies overboard and recognize it just isn’t their year?

Short of showing their hand by making an actual trade, Nashville couldn’t have made a stronger statement than coming up with consecutive wins in a home-and-home set with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

So while they still reside just outside the post-season cutoff line, it feels like it’s go-time in Tennessee.

In a campaign where the Predators have made a coaching change and haven’t received enough timely saves, perhaps nobody exemplifies the tough times better than Kyle Turris. The 30-year-old was healthy-scratched on multiple occasions under former bench boss Peter Laviolette, and would have been shipped out of town had it not been for a contract that carries four more seasons of a $6-million cap hit.

Now, with new coach John Hynes running the show, Turris has come alive playing right wing on a top trio with Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg. He registered one goal and two assists versus the Blues during Saturday’s 4-3 win in St. Louis before netting the game-winning goal with just over two minutes to play in a 2-1 nail-biter 24 hours later on home ice.

That same contest saw Pekka Rinne turn aside 38 shots to preserves the victory. Juuse Saros got the win on Saturday and he’s now picked up a ‘W’ in six of his past eight starts. The game-winner in the first contest came courtesy of Mikael Granlund, a UFA-to-be who seemed like a prime trade candidate if the Predators fell out of the race.

Nashville, which has now won three consecutive games for the first time since October, sits one point back of both the first and second wild card spots, presently occupied by the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes. Nashville holds three games in hand on the Yotes and two on the Flames. Sunday kicked off a stretch that will see the Preds play seven of eight at home and there’s a chance Ryan Ellis — who’s been out since taking a cheap blow to the head from Dallas Star Corey Perry in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic — could be back very soon.

And, who knows: Now that they’re moving closer and closer to the playoff spot they expected to be in, maybe Ellis won’t be the only addition Nashville makes in the next little while.

Other Weekend Takeaways

• Will there be a scramble to sell among bubble teams after seeing the tidy bit of business the New Jersey Devils did on the weekend? Acquiring a first-round pick and prospect Nolan Foote from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Blake Coleman was a nice haul and the second-round selection alone they got from the New York Islanders (who also surrendered AHL defenceman David Quenneville) was well worth moving their longest-serving player and captain, 37-year-old pending-UFA Andy Greene.

• What a weekend for the Edmonton Oilers. With Connor McDavid nursing his quad injury and Zack Kassian serving a suspension, the Oil came up with road wins in Florida on Saturday and Carolina on Sunday. Leon Draisaitl is officially your Hart Trophy favourite.

• Speaking of Florida, the Panthers just refuse to do themselves any favours in the race for third place in the Atlantic Division with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Cats — who entered this season with a playoffs-or-bust mentality — desperately needed the two points that were up for grabs versus the Oilers. The team is still just four points back of the Leafs with two games in hand, but the Panthers have just two wins in their past nine outings and are about to embark on a four-game roadie through California and Las Vegas.

• The San Jose Sharks managed a pair of road wins on Friday and Saturday, but the fact Erik Karlsson broke his thumb in the first of those contests basically sums up how this lost season has gone for the club. The team announced Karlsson is done for the year and it will be interesting to see what GM Doug Wilson does with this veteran-laden roster in the off-season, and if there’s any kind of re-tool that can be done around guys on mega-contracts.

• The expectations in Detroit may have been much different than San Jose entering the year, but nothing prepares you for a last-place season in which your goal-differential is minus-106. (The second-worst team is Ottawa at minus-44.) The Wings — dropped 4-1 by Boston Saturday and 5-1 by Pittsburgh on Sunday — need some lottery luck so they can use the first overall pick to get Alexis Lafrenière, who netted seven points in his Rimouski Océanic’s big win on Sunday.

Red and White Power Rankings

1. Toronto Maple Leafs (31-21-8) — The Leafs really didn’t have it during Sunday’s 5-2 loss in Buffalo, but that doesn’t mean rookie Egor Korshkov shouldn’t be happy about scoring his first NHL goal on his first shot in his league debut. That game, by the way, was Korshkov’s third in three days after he played (and scored) in two AHL games on Friday and Saturday.

2. Vancouver Canucks (32-22-5) — It was a tough end to Sedin week, as the Canucks were pumped 5-1 by the Anaheim Ducks on home ice on Sunday afternoon.

3. Edmonton Oilers (32-21-6) — Josh Archibald is just one of the guys stepping up for the Oilers. The right winger netted two goals — including the overtime winner — versus the Canes.

4. Winnipeg Jets (30-25-5) — It was more than a year in the making, but Nathan Beaulieu picked a great time to score his first goal as a Jet, popping the game-winner in a crucial 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night.

5. Calgary Flames (30-24-6) — Saturday’s embarrassing 8-4 loss to the Hawks was Calgary’s fifth consecutive setback on home ice. If they miss the playoffs, their domestic struggles will be a big reason why.

6. Montreal Canadiens (27-26-8) — Saturday night’s overtime loss to the Dallas Stars was the Habs’ fourth straight defeat, so they’re definitely sellers now. When GM Marc Bergevin saw what Coleman — a player who has one year left on his deal — fetched from the Bolts, did it move him in the direction of possibly trading Tomas Tatar, a 53-point player on a team-friendly contract through next season?

7. Ottawa Senators (20-28-11) — With so many pieces potentially in play, it will be interesting to see whether the Sens dive right into this deadline or opt to keep a bunch of future free agents in the name of keeping a little organizational continuity.

In Your Ear

On the most recent episode of Tape to Tape, co-host Rory Boylen and I shared some of our Sedin memories and brought in Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre to reflect on what was a special ceremony in Vancouver last week.

Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.

The Week Ahead

• Well, Leon Draisaitl could hit the 100-point mark this week. He’s got five to go and is on pace to outstrip Nikita Kucherov’s 128 points last year by putting up 132.

Alex Ovechkin remains two goals shy of 700. The Capitals are in Las Vegas on Monday night.

• Seven days to go until the trade deadline. Enjoy the madness, friends!

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