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Behind stellar home play, the Nashville Predators have the NHL's best record. They also realize teams will continue chasing them over the final two months of the regular season.
The Predators will try to tie a franchise record with their seventh straight home win when they meet the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.
Nashville (36-14-3) has one of the best home marks in the league, winning 18 times in 24 games at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The Predators last won seven in a row on their home ice from Feb. 13-March 1.
But the Preds are struggling as they return home, where they will play eight of their next 10 games. With a 3-2 loss at Phoenix on Thursday, Nashville has dropped two in a row for the first time in nearly two months.
"We had created a little cushion for us, and teams are starting to catch up to us," said Nashville forward Steve Sullivan, who had a short-handed goal and an assist. "We're heading home now and have a big game with Anaheim.
"I would say, at this point, we're not scoreboard-watching, but we do read the papers and check out how Detroit, Anaheim and Buffalo in the East, are doing."
The Predators last lost three in a row from Dec. 2-6, a streak that started with an overtime defeat to lowly Chicago and ended with a shutout loss to Anaheim (32-12-8). They haven't dropped three straight in regulation since the first three games of the season.
With three consecutive multi-point games, Sullivan continues to be the Predators' best player recently. The diminutive right wing has five goals and eight assists during a season-high nine-game point streak, and has found the back of the net in three straight games, totaling four goals in those contests.
Sullivan's goal 3:12 into overtime on Jan. 9 lifted Nashville to a 5-4 home win over the Ducks.
While Anaheim is chasing Nashville for the league's best record, the Ducks are also trying to maintain their hold on first place in the Pacific. Anaheim has a five-point lead over second-place San Jose, and will host the Sharks on Tuesday in the start of a home-and-home series.
The Ducks are looking for their first three-game winning streak since a five-game run in mid-December. After recording 30 saves in a 4-1 win over Dallas on Sunday, Jean-Sebastien Giguere stopped 24 shots in a 2-1 victory over the Coyotes on Wednesday.
"I think we're going to see a lot more of this type of hockey as we get into the last 30 games because we play conference opponents, so everybody's desperate for points," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "And when you play desperate teams, you're going to have to earn your space on the ice and win your share of one-on-one battles within the game. That's going to be critical as we go forward."
Starting with the shutout win over the Predators in December, Giguere is 9-2-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average in 12 starts, but both losses have come on the road.
Teemu Selanne had an assist in Wednesday's win over Phoenix, but finished January with eight goals and 12 points in 11 games - his second-worst month of the season.
Playing against the Predators, though, may help him get off to a good start in February. Selanne has five goals and eight assists in a six-game point streak against Nashville.
Selanne's 31 goals this season are the most by a Western Conference player.