The Predators are coming off a huge character win on Saturday after defeating the Los Angeles Kings 5-3. That win came the evening after the team had what many players called an “uncomfortable” team meeting earlier that day. A meeting in which the leadership group took responsibility for recent poor play and led the charge to reestablish the team’s identity in order to get the season back on track. The response was impressive with Duchene scoring two goals, Mikael Granlund one, and team captain Roman Josi netting three assists.

The win was exactly what the team needed to build some momentum, the only issue is that there are only two games remaining before the All-Star break. After Thursday’s game, they’ll have 11 days off before returning to action. And, long breaks haven’t exactly been kind to the Predators this season.

The first team they’ll face is the Winnipeg Jets tonight at Bridgestone Arena. The Jets, a Central Division rival, currently sit in 2nd place, just one point out of first behind the Dallas Stars. A win against the Predators would allow them to take over first place if Dallas falls to Carolina.

Thursday, the Preds will play the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are currently in 2nd place in the Metropolitan division and sit two points behind the Hurricanes. The Devils have a lot to gain with a win as it would likely help them overtake the Hurricanes.

While wins for both opponents would help make good seasons better, there’s a lot more on the line for the Predators. The Predators have struggled to win games against top competition this season. At times, they’ve shined against their peers, but most of their success has come against weaker opponents. If the team has fully committed to returning to their physically aggressive style of play, this is their chance to prove that they can hang with the top teams in the league.

The Predators sit in the middle of a group of teams that are clearly not cellar dwellers, fighting for the top pick the draft, but are also not able to hang with top-tier teams. They are, essentially, stuck in the mushy middle. The rest of the season will see this team fighting for a playoff position, but scraping their way into the playoffs won’t mean much if they can’t compete with the teams at the top of the standings.

The last thing the Predators need is another first-round exit at the hands of a team headed to Stanley Cup Finals. These two games are the perfect chance to show the fanbase that they, in fact, have what it takes to be a contender. A losing, or even middling, performance at either game will not inspire hope amongst the Smashville loyal. It will show that an uncomfortable team meeting where accountability was taken and rededications were made just isn’t enough to get them out of the mushy middle and into a place where they can compete at a high enough level to have a chance at anything beyond a first-round exit.

Two wins, though, that’s another story.

-featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports-