Predators wrap up playoff berth, move on to 'unfinished business'

Friday, April 8, 2011 at 10:48pm

It was won and done for the Nashville Predators on Friday.

Once they won — 4-1 over the Columbus Blue Jackets — they were done worrying about whether or not they would make the playoffs. Their 44th victory overall and their 11th in the last 14 games guaranteed them a spot in the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons.

Now they can focus on avoiding the one-and-done scenario that they have endured in each one of their previous playoff appearances.

“When you say the old cliché, ‘Lets’ just try to get in,’ I’m a firm believer that as soon as the 16 teams get in it’s a new season, and everybody’s got a chance to win. I don’t think if you’re a first seed or an eighth seed it makes a difference. You have to be ready to play once the playoffs start.

“So, for us the journey begins in another week.”

Playoff pairings and schedules will be announced Sunday, following the conclusion of the regular season and the first-round games begin Wednesday.

It’s still possible that Nashville will not have to go on the road for the start of its series. With only Saturday’s game at St. Louis to go, the Predators could finish fourth in the Western Conference and earn home-ice advantage for at least the opening round.

This one, before a sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena, was the final home contest of the regular season and capped a stretch in which of they played 12 out of 14 in their own building. They earned 19 of a possible 24 points in those 12 games capped by their 17th straight home victory over the Blue Jackets.

“We had a good run at home here,” coach Barry Trotz said. “You talk about home-ice advantage — home-ice advantage is 17,113, and they were good for us. Sometimes when you have long homestands things can get stale.

“I think our guys realized the magnitude of this stretch run. They played some top, top teams and had to bring it every night [even though] there were some nights when we were not at our best.”

This was one of those of those nights.

Nashville allowed 22 shots in the second period — a season-high — most of them after they built a 3-0 lead fewer than three minutes in when Matt Halischuk and Patric Hornqvist each scored in a span of 54 seconds.

The Blue Jackets finally got on the board with 1:28 to play in the second, which got the attention of the Predators, who have had their share of third-period struggles lately. This time, though, they got a goal from Sergei Kostitsyn with 7:35 left and cruised to the finish.

Whatever struggles they had were masked by goalie Pekka Rinne, who stopped 44 shots (four short of his season-high) and set a personal best with his 33rd victory of the season.

“We turned the puck over too much [in the second],” Hornqvist, who had two goals and an assist, said. “… We can’t play like that. If we didn’t have [Rinne] back there, we probably wouldn’t have ended up winning this game. But we have [Rinne], who is a great goalie. Then in the third … we finally found a way to shut them down and score a goal there too.

“We had the momentum the whole third period. That was great.”

When the final horn sounded the playoff spot was assured, players skated toward Rinne, congratulated him and one another in a manner consistent with virtually every other victory this season.

“We don’t want to limp into the playoffs, we want to be a really good team, playing well going into the playoffs,” Sullivan said. “It’s not a switch you can turn on and off. We have to be ready to go every single night and we showed [Friday] we still have a lot of gas in the tank and we want to get things done our way.

“We have some unfinished business. We want to try to finish fourth, if we can. This doesn’t mean very much to us. We want to keep going.”

Briefly

• Hornqvist became the first Predators draft pick — the fifth Nashville player overall — ever with at least 20 goals and 20 assists (he has 21 and 27, respectively) in back-to-back seasons for the team. The other Nashville players who did so are Sullivan, Paul Kariya, J-P Dumont and Jason Arnott.

With his two goals, Hornqvist, who had a team-high 30 last season, raised his season total to 21, two short of Kostitsyn for the team lead. No player has led Nashville in goals scored in consecutive seasons.

• Columbus’ last victory in Nashville was April 3, 2006. The 17-game Predators’ win streak (the Blue Jackets are 0-12-5 during that stretch) is the longest of its kind in the league.

“Obviously, they have a good team, they have good fans and it is pretty hard to play here,” Blue Jackets forward Derick Brassard said. “But 0-17 needs to stop. Next year we are going to have to take care of that.”

• Blake Geoffrion fought for the first time in his career when he went with Columbus center Derek MacKenzie at 14:52 of the second period. He became the seventh different Nashville player to fight this season.

With one game remaining, the Predators have recorded 18 fighting majors. Their fewest ever in a season is 23, which they have done twice — most recently last season.

• Sullivan played for the first time since Feb. 24, when he sustained a groin injury. He played 10:05 and did not have a shot on goal.

Martin Erat was scratched.

• The Predators have scored at least three goals in 10 of their last 11 games.

• The sellout was the 16th in this season’s 41 games at Bridgestone Arena.