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Predators try to maximize playoff chances in season finale

By Alan Ferguson

Stats Writer

Nashville (40-33-8) at Minnesota (38-33-9) 8:00 p.m. EDT

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (AP) -- Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire

might be behind the bench for his final home game on Friday

night. The Wild could also see one of their top forwards in

uniform for the last time.

With Lemaire considering retirement and free agency looming for

Marian Gaborik, the Wild will try to keep their flickering

playoff hopes alive against a Nashville Predators team trying to

maximize its own postseason hopes in its regular season finale.

The Wild talked the only coach they've ever had out of

retirement last season, but injuries and inconsistency have now

pushed them to the verge of elimination. To make its third

straight postseason, Minnesota would need to earn two points

both Friday and in its regular season finale Saturday evening in

Columbus, and Anaheim and St. Louis would have to lose their

final two contests in regulation.

If the Wild fall short of the postseason, the 63-year-old

Lemaire is expected to consult with his family and Wild general

manager Doug Risebrough before making a decision. Under Lemaire,

the Wild advanced to the 2003 Western Conference finals, but

have lost in the first round in each of the past two seasons.

Losing Gaborik for 65 games with an ailing hip was the biggest

blow this season for Minnesota, and leading goal scorer Owen

Nolan sat out 23 games. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns

have also missed time down the stretch.

"It's been a little frustrating," Lemaire said. "Because of the

injuries, we never had a full team. Maybe a couple of games and

that's it. And when it happens to your key players, then it's

hard to get the players having a good feel about the group."

Gaborik, who set career marks with 42 goals and 83 points last

season, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July and

is mum on his plans. The right wing has scored in five straight

games, and has eight goals and five assists since his return

March 22.

Gaborik's performance hasn't stopped his team's inconsistency.

Minnesota has alternated wins and losses over its last 12 games

dating to March 17.

The Predators kept their postseason chances alive with Thursday

night's 4-3 shootout victory in Detroit. Jason Arnott and J.P.

Dumont helped Nashville overcome a two-goal deficit in the third

period, with Dumont netting the tying score with 59 seconds left

in regulation.

Arnott's winning shootout attempt pushed the Predators into a

three-way tie for seventh with Anaheim and St. Louis at 88

points, but they will likely need help as the Ducks and Blues

each have two games remaining.

"This is the biggest game of the year," said Arnott, who has

four goals and two assists in three games since returning from a

concussion. "(Friday) night will be the biggest game of the

year."

In Nashville's last two meetings with the Wild, Pekka Rinne and

Dan Ellis recorded shutouts, but the Predators are 2-7-1 with

two ties in Minnesota since January 4, 2002.

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