Morning Skate: Fight For 4th

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 15: Johan Franzen #93 of the Detroit Red Wings races Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators for the puck at the Bridgestone Arena on December 15, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The title pretty much says it all.

Officially the winner of this game doesn't claim the 4th seed, but whomever comes away with the victory tonight is in the driver's seat with only four games remaining for each team. Either the Red Wings will skate away with a three point lead for home ice or the Predators will have a one point lead when the game is over. The winner will have all the momentum to ride for the final week.

For the Wings, it's the usual story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that we've seen all season long. Dominate the living crap out of a team one night. Embarrass yourselves and make some nobody goalie look like a stud the next. Win a few games-in-a-row. Lose a few games-in-a-row. Play pretty damn good at home. Play like the Blue Jackets on the road. Same script we've seen all season and probably the same script we'll see these final few games.

For the Predators, it's about playing defense and getting fantastic goaltending from Pekka Rinne. It's about getting reliable scoring and two-way play from all your lines because you don't have that one true stud offensive player. They're balanced. They're deep. They play within their system and they do it very well. Gaining home ice gives them something that would be a real advantage if these two teams do match up in round one. Plus, winning at the Joe tonight gives them confidence that they could steal a game on the road if they needed too and it gives them a real belief that they are the better team between these two franchises at this moment.

It's gut check time for these two teams.

Who wants it more?

We've got a potential first round preview and the future of these two team's seasons may be on the line tonight.

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On the Forecheck is your SBNation Predators' blog.

Puck drop is just after 7:30p ET on Fox Sports Detroit Plus.

The Expected Lineup (Updated as of 11:15)

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Johan Franzen -- Pavel Datsyuk -- Todd Bertuzzi

Valtteri Filppula -- Henrik Zetterberg -- Jiri Hudler

Danny Cleary -- Justin Abdelkader -- Drew Miller

Gustav Nyquist -- Cory Emmerton -- Tomas Holmstrom

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Nicklas Lidstrom -- Ian White

Niklas Kronwall -- Brad Stuart

Jakub Kindl -- Jonathan Ericsson

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Jimmy Howard

Ty Conklin

Scratches: Kyle Quincey and Jan Mursak

Injuries: Patrick Eaves (concussion), Joey MacDonald (back) and Darren Helm (knee)

We'll likely see Ericsson in again for Kindl. He will be playing more in the postseason so he needs the ice time. Mike Babcock said he was going to re-evaluate the goaltending situation today. We might see Jimmy return which could show just how badly this team wants to get the 4th seed. A little desperation never hurt anyone (I personally think Jimmy plays. Stop being afraid of the Preds maybe running him. Go out there, let Jimmy be the competitor he is and make sure your skaters in front of him man the F up and don't let anyone from Nashville take liberties with your goaltender. Jimmy should be BEGGING to play this game and tell the world "I'm f*cking back, bitches!")

I'm sure Goose will stay on the 4th line to start the game, but if things get ugly in quick fashion for the Wings I wouldn't be shocked if Babcock said, "screw it" and puts Nyquist back with Datsyuk to shake things up a bit. It's a joke if the kid only plays 5:19 again. At the end of the day though, this team can't rely on a rookie in times like this. Sure any production he can give is awesome, but tonight is a game when guys like Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Filppula, and yes, Franzen need to be the guys getting shit done. Babcock always preaches that your best players need to be your best players. Tonight is one of those nights.

PREDATORS HOW THEY MATCH UP RED WINGS
44-25-8 (96 pts; 5th in West) Record 46-26-5 (97 pts; 4th in West)
2.79 (9th in NHL) Goals Per Game 3.01 (4th in NHL)
2.56 (9th) Goals Against Per Game 2.46 (6th)
21.7% (1st) Power Play % 16.5% (21st)
83.2% (13th) Penalty Kill % 80.5% (22nd)
Patric Hornqvist (25 goals) Goal Leader Johan Franzen (26 goals)
Martin Erat (57 points) Points Leader Henrik Zetterberg (67 points)

  • The Red Wings are 46-23-4-7 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Nashville Predators franchise.
  • If home ice is the #1 game changer in a series between these two teams, well then specialty teams has to be #1A. The Preds have the top power play in the league and we saw the damage it could do a few weeks ago in Nashville's 3-2 win over Detroit. It doesn't help that the Wings' PK has been sub-par all season long. It's now that I really wish Patrick Eaves was able to play. He's not going to make the PK magically go from 22nd to top five in the league, but he's a great penalty killer and could really help. And let's not forget Helmer is sorely missed too. Detroit's power play has been improving since Lidstrom and Datsyuk have returned. I expect that to continue. Nashville's PK is good, but not out of this world. Wings have the talent to score and the man-advantage has been looking more dangerous and coherent the last few games.
  • Last 10 games - Detroit: 3-5-2, Nashville: 5-4-1
  • I previously mentioned the old Babcockian cliche that the Wings best players need to be their best players. Well this season their best players have shown up against the Preds. Datsyuk (2G, 3A in 4 GM), Hank (2G, 3A in 5 GM) and Flip (4G, 1A in 5 GM) lead the team with five points each. Todd Bertuzzi (4A in 4 GM) is the only other player for the Wings that is averaging a point per game or better against Nashville this year.
  • Pekka Rinne is 10-5-3 with a 2.36 GAA, .930 SV% and three shutouts in his career against the Red Wings. Jimmy Howard is 6-4-1 with a 2.37 GAA, .918 SV% and one shutout all-time against the Predators. Also, just incase you're wondering, Ty Conklin is 4-3-2 against Nashville with a 2.92 GAA and .883 SV%.

Prediction: Since the Preds aren't a crappy team that isn't going to make the playoffs, I think Dr. Jekyll shows up tonight for the Wings. It's going to be a battle though and it's not going to be a blowout by any means. This is as close to playoff hockey that we'll see until we get the real thing in a few weeks. It's going to be a defensive game and whomever makes the least amount of mistakes is going to be victorious. Wings have to be confident and play within their system. Crisp, clean passes. Smart decisions. No bonehead miscues that give the Preds odd man rushes and easy, wide open shots in close. Detroit has to do the little things. If they do that, then the rest will fall into place. I think they pull out the win with a third period goal and a final score of 3-2. Pavel Datsyuk has one of those games where we say "holy shit" out loud and wonder to ourselves how he still has magic up his sleeves that we haven't seem before. He's your player of the game.

Let's Go Red Wings.

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