Predators win big one in home ice chase against Red Wings

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If the playoffs began right at this moment, the Nashville Predators would hold a crucial home-ice advantage over the Detroit Red Wings in an intriguing playoff match. Both teams still have four games to go, but Nashville made something of a statement in beating them 4-1 in Detroit.

The biggest span came in the second period when the Predators took a 2-0 lead despite an 18-7 shot disadvantage. Pekka Rinne (31 out of 32 saves) was the biggest star of that period and the game, yet one could say that Alexander Radulov’s goal ranks as the most ominous sign for a Red Wings team that isn’t very happy to see him back in the NHL.

Naturally, a one-point lead isn’t perfectly safe for the Predators, even if the Red Wings have been struggling lately. Fortunes can turn on a dime during the stretch run, as just about every part of the NHL’s playoff race has shown us.

Let’s take a look at the two teams’ final four games, then:

Predators’ remaining schedule

Saturday: vs. Chicago
April 3: vs. Minnesota
April 5: vs. Dallas
April 7: at Colorado

Red Wings’ remaining schedule

Sunday: vs. Florida
April 4: at St. Louis
April 5: vs. New Jersey
April 7: vs. Chicago

The Florida Panthers already revealed that a team’s “on paper” schedule only matters so much, but it would appear that Nashville faces a slightly easier road to the fourth seed. All four of Detroit’s opponents are likely to be in the playoffs and while the Devils might not have much to play for, the Panthers will be desperate and the two Central opponents would likely love to hand it to the team that has beguiled the entire division for its entire existence. Back-to-back games can’t help an older Red Wings team’s cause, either.

That’s not to say that it’s a cakewalk for the Predators, though. Both teams enjoy three of their last four contests at home, which likely is a bigger factor for the more home-dependent Red Wings. As much as those Central teams would like to “stick it” to Detroit, the Stars and Avalanche are likely to be desperate at the end of this season (unless Colorado ends up getting booted altogether).

A banner night for Predators franchise

It’s quite the way for Nashville head coach Barry Trotz to get his 500th career win – all with the Predators. The Associated Press frames what this win means for Trotz and Nashville’s distinguished GM David Poile.

Trotz is the fifth coach to win 500 games with one franchise, joining the New York Islanders’ Al Arbour, Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, Chicago’s Billy Reay and Montreal’s Toe Blake.

Predators general manager David Poile, whose savvy drafting has helped the smaller-market franchise consistently win, is the first NHL general manager to win 500 games with two teams. He helped the Washington Capitals win 594 games from 1982-97 before getting the Predators ready for the 1998-99 season, their debut in the league.

It’s the kind of franchise-building that should create a blueprint for future(?) expansion teams and makes for a worrisome opponent for the mighty Red Wings.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.