Forget that pre-playoff clash last season. The Calgary Flames (21-14-9) and Nashville Predators (19-17-6) are very different teams this year.
One thing that remains the same, though, is they're battling for position on Monday. In their last meeting in April, they thought they might match up in the first round of the NHL playoffs. That didn't happen, but they certainly played like they were prepping for a seven-game series. They emptied the tanks. There were heavy hits, big goals and high drama moments. The Flames won that one in comeback fashion with a tying goal less than a second before the end of regulation, then an overtime winner from Elias Lindholm.
This time around, the importance isn't on a potential playoff meeting — it's about a playoff spot. The Predators are a wildcard contender. The Calgary Flames are currently holding one of those spots. So as important as the points are to keep climbing and have a shot at a divisional spot in the post-season, the Flames have to make sure they are further fending off the Preds.
"You just look at the standings and you can't stop," Flames associate coach Kirk Muller told reporters in Nashville on Monday. "We go home and we're going to be playing tough teams again. Tonight's going to be a tough challenge. They're good here at home and are a good hockey team, so the race has already begun and you've got to win to keep pace.
"You want to be keep battling. Every point matters right now and everyone knows with the (bye week) coming up, everyone's pushing for that. Everyone's emptying the tank and they're tough games right now, so we've got to be ready for a tough game tonight."
The Predators are quickly falling behind in the Western Conference playoff race. They've dropped three straight, including a 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday with Kyle Okposo's shorthanded goal in the third period standing up as the backbreaking winner.
The Flames have points in 14 of their last 17 games and are 2-0-2 on their five-game trip through the Central Division — looking to put an exclamation point on the roadie after a stressful finish in a win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
"You can only control what you can control, and you can control how you do and the points that you get," said Calgary Flames winger Milan Lucic. "Seattle, they just put together an historic seven-game win streak on a road trip, so they're finding ways to win games and they're scoring a ton of goals and all that type of stuff. And Vegas and LA have been consistent all year. All we can really do is control what we can control, and carry on about our own business."
Monday's skate was optional but based on Sunday's practice, the lines are expected to stay the same — which means prospect Jakob Pelletier may not have a minute of ice time after being called up ahead of the road swing.
Dan Vladar started the last game in Dallas but after allowing three goals in the third period and four straight going back to the second, it's expected Jacob Markstrom will return to the crease after having the afternoon off on Saturday.
Calgary Flames projected lineup
Dillon Dube – Elias Lindholm – Tyler Toffoli
Milan Lucic – Nazem Kadri – Jonathan Huberdeau
Andrew Mangiapane – Mikael Backlund – Blake Coleman
Trevor Lewis – Adam Ruzicka – Walker Duehr
Noah Hanifin – Rasmus Andersson
MacKenzie Weegar – Chris Tanev
Nikita Zadorov – Michael Stone
Nashville Predators projected lineup
Filip Forsberg — Juuso Parssinen — Matt Duchene
Nino Niederreiter — Ryan Johansen — Mikael Granlund
Cole Smith — Cody Glass — Colton Sissons
Yakov Trenin — Tommy Novak — Tanner Jeannot
Ryan McDonagh — Roman Josi
Mattias Ekholm — Dante Fabbro
Jeremy Lauzon — Roland McKeown