By Stephen Hunt, The Sports Xchange
DALLAS — The Nashville Predators were already assured of a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but they wanted to ensure their offense is firing on all cylinders heading into the postseason.
Thanks to two goals and two assists from Viktor Arvidsson and two goals and an assist from Craig Smith in a 7-3 win against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night at American Airlines Center, that appears to be the case.
“We have a great offensive team and we have guys that can score a lot of goals,” Arvidsson said. “It’s good work.”
Nashville (41-28-12) also got goals from Kevin Fiala, Roman Josi and Harry Zolnierczyk. Anthony Bitetto and P.K. Subban added two assists, and Juuse Saros made 30 saves.
The Predators, who have one game remaining, have 94 points, one behind St. Louis for third place in the Central Division. The Blues, who have one game in hand on Nashville, have two games remaining — at Carolina on Saturday and against Colorado on Sunday.
Nashville can overtake St. Louis for third in the Central by winning at Winnipeg on Saturday and with the Blues losing their final two games.
Dallas (33-37-11) got goals from Jason Spezza, Radek Faksa, who also had an assist, and Jason Dickinson. The Stars will miss the playoffs after leading the Western Conference with 109 points last season.
Smith scored the only goal of the third, netting his second of the game after his slap shot deflected off John Klingberg with 6:08 remaining.
Nashville scored early and often to build a 4-0 lead after one. Arvidsson scored his first of two goals in the opening frame 1:06 into the game when he tipped a Smith pass through Antti Niemi’s five-hole.
“I thought we were good right off the bat,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “We were able to get an early goal, that to me can always set the tone of the game.”
Smith made it 2-0 with his 11th goal of the season with 6:58 remaining before the first intermission when he beat Niemi to his short side. Following the goal, Niemi, who stopped six of eight shots, headed to the locker room as he was replaced by Kari Lehtonen.
“Those are two tough goals that went in, two goals that our goaltender has got to get for us,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of the decision to pull Niemi.
Lehtonen wound up stopping 21 of the 26 shots he faced.
Dallas has now played both goaltenders in an NHL-most 14 games this season.
Fiala put the Predators ahead by three with his 11th goal of the season on a wrist shot from the top of the left circle with 1:44 remaining in the first period.
Thirty-six seconds later, Arvidsson added his second tally of the period when his shot from the top of the right circle deflected in off the skate of Jamie Oleksiak.
Arvidsson now has 31 goals this season, a career high.
“It was a nice goal to tap in there to get to 30,” Arvidsson said. “Just have to keep working and being consistent.”
Nashville went ahead 5-0 when Zolnierczyk scored his second goal of the season 1:06 into the second period.
Dallas followed with three unanswered goals to cut it to 5-3 before Josi broke the string on a power-play goal with 2:31 remaining before the second intermission.
Spezza broke the shutout with his 15th goal of the season, beating Saros far post with a wrist shot from the left circle 2:47 into the second period.
Faksa followed with his 12th goal of the season, redirecting a Dan Hamhuis wrist shot with 9:30 remaining in the second for his 12th goal of the season.
Dickinson made it a two-goal game with his second goal of the season with 7:09 remaining before the second intermission, when he scored from the right circle.
Josi made it 6-3 when he beat Lehtonen far post with a slap shot from the right circle during a five-on-three power play.
In the second period, Dallas lost forward Justin Dowling after he took a stick to the head.
“It doesn’t look like he’ll be able to play (Saturday),” Ruff said of Dowling. “It doesn’t look (like Brett) Ritchie will be ready for the next game, so we’re down a couple more forwards. We’ll have to bring up a couple more.”