CANUCKS (32-15-5) at PREDATORS (32-17-4)
TV: SNET-P (HD), FS-TN
Last 10: Vancouver 6-2-2; Nashville 8-2-0.
Season Series: This is the third of four meetings between these Western Conference rivals, who have split the first two matchups -- which were both in Vancouver. In the first encounter on Oct. 20, Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined for five points as the Canucks used a four-goal first period to chase Pekka Rinne and skate to a 5-1 blowout victory. Vancouver again scored five times in the second meeting on Dec. 1, but wound up on the losing side of a wild 6-5 game. Both starting goaltenders -- Cory Schneider for the Canucks and Rinne for the Predators -- were pulled as Schneider allowed three goals in the first period on just five shots and Rinne surrendered five tallies on 18 shots, including four goals in a span of 7:19 early in the second period. However, Anders Lindback stopped all 19 shots he faced in a perfect relief outing for the Preds, who put three pucks past Roberto Luongo to rally from a 5-3 deficit and notch a one-goal win.
Big Story: Two of the top five teams in the NHL square off with the hottest goalie in the League seeking redemption. Rinne has a chance to cure his ills against the Western Conference champions after they chased him twice earlier in the season. The 29-year-old Finn has won a franchise-record 11 straight decisions and 20 of his last 22. In the 11 consecutive victories, Rinne has posted a spectacular 1.55 goals-against average and has given up more than two goals only once. However, Rinne is just 2-6-0 with a 2.82 GAA in his last nine starts against Vancouver, including last season's second-round playoff defeat.
Anchored by their netminder's outstanding play, the Predators have won 14 of 17 to climb into the fourth spot in the West and into second place in the Central division behind the League-leading Detroit Red Wings. Meanwhile, the Canucks have won four of their previous five and have points in their last six. They are the second seed in the West and maintain a sizeable 11-point advantage over Minnesota for the top spot in the Northwest Division.
Canucks: With a 3-2 shootout win at Colorado on Saturday, the Canucks have now gone past regulation in four straight games and in seven of their past nine. They were merely seconds away from a regulation loss though, until Kevin Bieksa's heroics at both ends of the ice. With 48 seconds remaining and the Canucks trailing 2-1, Bieksa made a diving save to prevent the Avalanche from scoring an empty-net goal and sealing the win. Then with 34.1 seconds left, he whistled a wrist shot over the right shoulder of a screened J.S. Giguere to tie the game. After a scoreless overtime, Mason Raymond scored the only goal of the tiebreaker to give Vancouver its third straight road victory and halt Colorado’s 10-game winning streak in shootouts dating back to last season. Luongo -- who denied all three shootout attempts -- made 44 saves and has faced at least 41 shots in three of his last five starts, going 3-0-2 with a 2.26 goals-against average in that span.
"Getting a win, that is the sole goal at the end of the night," said Ryan Kesler, who scored his 16th goal of the season early in the opening period. "Just find a way to win. Play your best game every night, and we haven’t been doing that. You can tell that by the shot totals and the chances against, but we keep finding ways to win. We have to simplify our game a little bit. Chip it in, work down low. We have to generate more offense, but the positive is that we keep getting points."
Predators: In a critical matchup Saturday between St. Louis and Nashville, Rinne out-dueled another hot goaltender in Jaroslav Halak to lift the Preds to a 3-1 win -- putting them one point ahead of the Blues in the fiercely competitive Central division. Rinne made 42 saves, improving his record to 4-0 against St. Louis this season and building Nashville's record to a remarkable 12-2-2 against divisional foes.
"The division is so hard, and we have to take all the points we can right now," said Martin Erat, who notched a goal and two assists. "It's a battle to the end because in the end, we always have to play against St. Louis, Detroit, and Chicago."
Midway through the final period, Rinne made an incredible save on defenseman Kris Russell to preserve a 2-1 lead at the time. After scrambling to the ice to stop an initial attempt by Russell, Rinne stretched far to his left to make a terrific pad save on a second shot by Russell just a few seconds later.
"There's not too many goaltenders in this League who would make that save," coach Barry Trotz said. "That's why I keep saying, 'He's the best one.'"
Who's Hot: Kesler has scored a goal in three straight contests and in four of his last five for the Canucks. … Mike Fisher, who tallied the game-winner against the Blues, has six goals in his last five games and also has points in six of his last seven. The Preds are 18-2-1 when Fisher records a point and 10-0-1 when he scores a goal.
Injury Report: Vancouver forward Chris Higgins (flu) has missed the last two games and is questionable to play Tuesday. Forwards Andrew Ebbett (collarbone surgery) and Aaron Volpatti (shoulder surgery) remain out for Vancouver. … Nashville is completely healthy.
Stat Pack: According to the Predators' official web site, Rinne's 11-game winning streak matches the longest single-season winning streak by an NHL goaltender over the last 13 years. Since the 1998-99 season, only four other goalies have recorded 11 straight wins in a single season: Patrick Roy (1998-99), Martin Brodeur (twice: 2000-01 and 2005-06), Martin Biron (2005-06) and Marc-Andre Fleury (2010-11).
Puck Drop: Tuesday's matchup features the top two power-play units in the League, with the tiniest of margins separating them. Vancouver leads the NHL with a conversion rate of 22.3 percent, while the Preds are right behind them at 22.2 percent.
Nashville is on fire! Better hope the defensive zone flubbing that has plagued the team the past few weeks has been addressed or the Preds will light us up. Surprised their power play percentage is .10 behind us for second place in the NHL.
All in all we're in for a very tough test tonight.
Listen, don't mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right.