NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Nashville Predators are in the playoffs. That doesn’t mean they’re finished yet with the regular season.
Not while there’s still any chance at home-ice advantage in the post-season.
“We’ve got some unfinished business,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Friday night after a 4-1 victory over Columbus clinched the Predators’ sixth playoff berth in seven seasons.
“We said we want to go as high as we can, and if we can get two more points tomorrow night that’d be huge for us as a team and an organization. You’re talking about maybe the possibility of home ice. Home ice has been an advantage for us this past month. We’ll take it right now.”
Patric Hornqvist scored two goals and had an assist, and the Predators wrapped up their home schedule. They conclude the regular season Saturday night in St. Louis where a win could help them start the playoffs at home—where they went 24-9-8 this season. Washington and Vancouver are the only other NHL teams with fewer than 10 regulation losses at home.
“There’s a lot on the table,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “We can still finish fourth. I think we need a little bit of help from other teams, but it’s in our hands and that would be amazing to start at home.”
Matt Halischuk and Sergei Kostitsyn also scored to help Nashville extend the NHL’s longest active home winning streak against one team with its 17th straight over Columbus. The Blue Jackets haven’t won in Nashville since April 3, 2006.
Derick Brassard scored for Columbus, which lost its fifth straight.
“Obviously, they have a good team, they have good fans, and it is pretty hard to play here but 0-17 needs to stop,” Brassard said. “Next year we are going to take care of that.”
With another sellout crowd on hand, the Predators opened with plenty of energy and wasted little time ensuring at least another post-season slot against a Columbus team playing with captain Rick Nash sitting out his fifth straight game with a back injury.
The Blue Jackets outshot the Predators 45-25, but Rinne improved to 33-21-9 by stopping shot after shot away.
“To me, he’s our MVP without a doubt,” Trotz said. “I would say he’s probably the best goaltender in the National Hockey League. You have to talk about who’s the most valuable player to his team, which is what the Hart Trophy’s about. Pekka’s got to be in the top three for me.”
Hornqvist opened the scoring 6 minutes into the first period when he tapped the puck into the open net after Mike Fisher drew a couple of Blue Jackets and goalie Steve Mason to him at the post.
The Predators jumped out 3-0 scoring two goals 54 seconds apart in the second. Jerred Smithson passed the puck to Halischuk in the slot, and he used his skate to knock it back to his stick before beating Mason between the legs. Hornqvist scored his second of the night unassisted with a backhander from the right circle at 2:42.
Nashville captain Shea Weber had a nice break-up of his own a couple feet in front of Rinne midway through the second. Brassard tried a cross-ice pass to a teammate only to see Weber just swat away the puck. Brassard did score on a slap shot at 18:32 from the right circle to avoid the shutout as part of 22 shots by Columbus in the period.
“Peks made it look pretty easy so I didn’t know they had that many,” Nashville defenceman Shane O’Brien said. “We lean on him a little too much at times this year, but I think he’s the best in the world. We’re lucky to have him.”
Columbus coach Scott Arniel said his Blue Jackets had probably four quality chances in the first couple minutes of the second only to have three turnovers with the puck finding the net. He credited Nashville’s defence with coming up despite all the time they spent in front of Rinne.
“At the end of the day, we only scored one goal. He stopped us 44 times, and we lost another hockey game. We talked about trying to stop the bleeding in this rink and against this team,” Arniel said. “We did lots of good things but certainly not enough.”
Kostitsyn, Nashville’s other 20-goal scorer, padded the lead at 12:25 of the third. Hornqvist skated up the right side with the puck and shot, and the puck rattled off Kostitsyn and over the line to start fans celebrating with a standing ovation through a timeout.
NOTES: Nashville notched its 16th sellout. … Hornqvist became Nashville’s second 20-goal scorer this season. He also has 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in his last 10 games. … Kostitsyn’s goal extended his points streak to 11 games, the second-longest run in franchise history (7 goals, 8 assists). … The opening faceoff was delayed 8 minutes while workers replaced a piece of glass beside the Predators’ bench area. … Nashville improved to 30-5-8 when scoring first. … Predators centre Mike Fisher extended his points streak to six straight games with an assist. He has eight points (4 goals, 4 assists). … Predators forward Steve Sullivan returned from a groin injury that had kept him out since Feb. 24.