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Three Games in Four Nights = The Whole Season

So it all comes down to this; a three-game string Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to determine whether the Predators will make the playoffs. Despite the frustration of Sunday afternoon's loss in Detroit, Nashville does have to feel confident in both their goaltender and the overall team effort, and be grateful to earn at least the OTL point. Dan Ellis has come up huge during this stretch run, setting this season's NHL-best shutout streak of 233:39 up through the OT goal against the Red Wings, with the team earning 7 out of a possible 8 points in the last four games.

Vancouver remains one point ahead in the standings, and finishes out the season at home. To the Canucks' disadvantage, however, they are playing teams still fighting for position, whereas the Predators wrap up against the Blues and Blackhawks, who are simply playing out the string. While the main focus is on passing Vancouver, it shouldn't be forgotten that a stumble by Calgary could leave them out of the playoffs as well; this prospect has been vetted thoroughly over at Battle of Alberta.

It's amazing to see, but after that lengthy shutout streak, Dan Ellis now sits atop the NHL leaderboard for save percentage at .926; who would have thought that the backup goalie in Nashville could unexpectedly step forward and have a season-saving season for his team? Oh right, that's exactly what happened last year, too. The obvious lesson for David Poile is to avoid resigning Ellis (since Chris Mason is inked to a 3-year extension), and bring up Pekka Rinne to be the backup for 2008-9; he's logically the next in line to enjoy a breakout, monster season. Whatever occurs, don't throw a long-term extension Ellis' way; look what it did to Mason this year!

Up front, the offensive production has become spotty, mostly due to the absence of David Legwand. I saw him puttering around the Costco in Cool Springs over the weekend with a walking boot on his injured foot, so at least he's up and around, but when that translates into a return to action is beyond my armchair diagnostic skills. The Preds might not need Legwand against St. Louis (3rd lowest Goals For in the NHL), but Chicago on Friday night might be another case altogether.

So who needs to step up? Let's start with Alexander Radulov. His 2-goal effort against Detroit on March 20 represent the only goals scored in his last 16 games; that's far too long at too critical a time to go cold. Similarly, Martin Erat only has 2 goals in his last 12 games. It's one thing to get the odd goal from Fiddler, Tootoo, Bonk or Nichol, but Erat and Radulov should be steady contributors, and when they're not scoring, it puts all the more pressure on Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to watch this week will be how Vancouver plays; Tuesday and Thursday night the results of the Predators games should already be known by the time the Canucks drop the puck. A win in St. Louis by Nashville would put the heat on Vancouver as they host the Avalanche, for example. Of course, it all starts with the Predators taking care of business first, and anything short of an all-out effort Tuesday night might make the whole exercise academic...

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