Ducks visit Preds in clash between NHL’s best

( – The surprising Nashville Predators have been a tough
opponent all season long and that has been especially true when the club has
played at home.

The Predators, expected to have their No. 1 goaltender back in the lineup,
look to extend the longest home winning streak in team history on Thursday
night when they take on the Anaheim Ducks in a matchup of the NHL’s current
points leaders.

Nashville is tied with Anaheim atop the overall standings with 72 points but
with a game in hand. The Predators have used strong play at home to emerge as
serious contenders, going 20-2-1 as the host on the season.

However, despite tying for the league lead in points, the Predators have just
a two-point lead over the second-place St. Louis Blues in the Central
Division, while the Ducks are 11 points clear of the second-place San Jose
Sharks and Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division.

Nashville won for the club-record ninth straight time on home ice with
Tuesday’s 4-3 decision over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Preds have won two in
a row overall following a 1-2-2 skid.

“We just take a lot of pride, and all of the teams in this league take a lot
of pride in playing at home,” said Preds captain Shea Weber. “We especially
do. We want to make it tough for teams to come into this building and play.
It’s a big advantage when you can have that kind of record at home.”

The Predators fell behind 3-2 early in the third period before getting goals
from Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson to pull back ahead. Fisher, who also had two
assists, scored 6:55 into the frame and Wilson netted the winner with 8:42 to

Wilson also assisted on Fisher’s goal, while Seth Jones (short-handed) and
Weber (power play) scored in the first period. Carter Hutton made 25 saves to
get the win in net.

“I think we’ve kind of showed that all year. We’re never really out of games
at any point,” said Hutton. “We didn’t think it was our best game. We weren’t
happy with our second (period), and the third didn’t start the way we wanted
it to. We stuck with it, and that’s huge.”

Hutton helped man the crease while Pekka Rinne was out with a knee sprain that
he suffered on Jan. 13, but the 32-year-old Rinne is expected to return to
action tonight.

Rinne leads the NHL with 29 victories and is second in both goals against
average (1.96) and save percentage (.931). He is 10-3-4 lifetime versus the
Ducks with a 2.17 GAA, .922 save percentage and two shutouts.

“I feel really good,” Rinne told Nashville’s website. “I feel 100 percent and
feel ready to go. It’s never a good time to be injured, but I’m feeling good.”

The Ducks have proven themselves resilient as well as they avoided a third
loss in a row with Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime victory against the Carolina

Anaheim fell behind by two goals midway through the third period, but Devante
Smith-Pelly scored with 10:29 left in regulation and Corey Perry notched the
equalizer with 4:08 on the clock.

Perry scored twice and assisted on Ryan Getzlaf’s winning tally 45 seconds
into overtime.

“We don’t give up. We don’t do that. When we lose two, we don’t want to lose
the third one,” said Getzlaf, who had two assists.

Ryan Kesler also lit the lamp and Frederik Andersen came up with 28 stops.
Andersen, whose career record stands at 48-12-5, joined Montreal’s Bill Durnan
as the fastest goaltenders in NHL history to 48 wins. Durnan also won 48 over
65 decisions in December, 1944.

Anaheim’s rally gave the club its seventh victory in nine games and league-
leading 23rd in one-goal games.

“We knew we had to take it one shift at a time. It wasn’t the prettiest one,
but we’ll take it,” Perry noted after reaching the 20-goal mark for the
seventh time in his career.

Anaheim kicks off a five-game road trip tonight and will be right back in
action on Friday in Washington.

Andersen made 27 saves in a 4-3 shootout win over the Predators on Jan. 4 in
Anaheim in the first of three meetings this season. It was the Ducks’ sixth
victory in the past seven meetings overall and they have won three in a row in