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MONTREAL - After two years out of the NHL playoffs, there is new optimism among the Nashville Predators.A stunning turnaround aided by a coaching change, the addition of veteran forwards James Neal and Mike Ribeiro and the emergence of 20-year-old forward Filip Forsberg have put Nashville in first place in the Central Division going into the all-star break.Now they believe theyve got enough pieces to keep up their strong play through the second half of the regular season and do some damage in the playoffs.Absolutely, veteran centre Mike Fisher said Tuesday. We really believe in this group.We believe were a top team in this league and we are. Weve shown it thus far. Were really confident in the group we have, that we can win any night against other top teams.The Predators had not lost twice in a row this season going into a game Tuesday night against the Canadiens in Montreal, where they were without star goalie Pekka Rinne for a third game due to an injury expected to last three weeks.Backed by Rinne and an impressive defence group led by Shea Weber, the Predators are the NHLs stingiest team, allowing only 2.25 goals per game. But Nashville has been known as a tight defensive side in recent years.The surprise is that they are tied for fifth in goals scored per game at 3.0.Part of that stems from the decision last summer to let the conservative Barry Trotz go after coaching the team through its first 15 NHL campaigns and bring in a more attack-minded Peter Laviolette.Trotz is now performing wonders in making the Washington Capitals a winning, two-way club, while Laviolette will also be a coach of the year candidate for doing much the same in Nashville.Its good for both sides, said Weber. You see the success theyre having (in Washington) and that were having.There was a different feel coming into training camp this year with a new face and I think the guys have responded very well.The second part of the season will determine if the Predators are for real, but it looks like it so far.They certainly have the goaltending with Rinne, considered one of the best in the world.With Weber, they have the big No. 1 blue-liner every team wishes it had, and he is backed by a group that can defend and move the puck. Among them is emerging talent Seth Jones, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft.Only a few months ago, they didnt appear to have much up front, but then Forsberg turned into a nearly point-per-game player and a strong two-way player on the top line with veteran Mike Ribeiro, who so far has shown a new commitment to discipline after being bought out by Arizona due to behavioural problems.Hes been an excellent addition to our team, Laviolette said of Ribeiro, who is on pace for his first 70-point campaign since 2010-11. Terrific in the room, terrific teammate, terrific on-ice play.Forsberg, playing his first full NHL campaign, was acquired from Washington in March 2013 for Martin Erat and Michael Latta in what is looking to be a spectacular steal for Nashville.Fisher centres James Neal, a one-time 40-goal scorer picked up in a trade with Pittsburgh in June, and Colin Wilson, who is having a breakout season and will soon top his career high of 35 points.Veteran Olli Jokinen, signed from Winnipeg, is playing on the fourth line. Another reclamation project, defenceman Anton Volchenkov, brings his stay at home style to the third defence pair and being dumped by New Jersey.Fisher likes the teams chances.With the goaltending we have, and look at our back end: everyone can handle the puck and skate, he said. And you look at the mix, the young guys, the leadership, energy, the way we play.Were all excited about what we can do. Its a tough league and the playoffs are tough, but we feel weve got a lot of pieces and character and we can be successful.The Predators have won only two playoff series in their history, the last against Detroit in 2012.The optimism now stems from adding some offence to a team known for tight defence. That comes from Laviolette.Id say were more aggressive, said Fisher. We want to be hungry for pucks, to forecheck really hard.The way our defence can move the puck helps us offensively. And defensively, we want to be hard to play against. He wants us to play both ends. He wants us to make plays and be creative, but be responsible.It has worked so far, but Weber, the captain, knows there is a lot of hockey still be played.I was on this team a while back when we were in first place for a while too, he said. Weve had good teams since Ive been in Nashville.Its just been tough the last couple of years. Theres still a lot of season left and we have to keep it up. Jonathan Allen Jersey .C. United on Wednesday night. Forward Bright Dike scored the games only goal in the 85th minute on a foggy night in Bradenton, Fla. Jonathan Allen Redskins Jersey .com) - The San Francisco Giants delivered plenty of big hits to tie the World Series. http://www.redskinsfansproshop.com/Reds ... l?cat=1353. - Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard has signed with WME-IMG, saying the sports management powerhouse will help maximize the value of my brand. DaRon Payne Redskins Jersey . -- The Guelph Storm are moving on to the Western Conference final after defeating the London Knights 5-4 on Friday in Ontario Hockey League playoff action. Paul Richardson Redskins Jersey . Felton pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a firearm. He admitted he knowingly had a large-capacity ammunition magazine and a semi-automatic pistol without a license.SALT LAKE CITY -- Blowing out Utah for a second time this month was not in the cards for Portland. With the Jazz making a fourth-quarter rally, the Blazers struggled to fight through offensive sluggishness and escape with a win. Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard provided the lifeline in the final minute. Batum drained a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock and Lillard followed with another shot from long-range on the next possession to lift the Blazers to a 105-94 victory over the Jazz on Monday night. "The ball bounced their way a few times," Lillard said. "We knew it would be tough because we just played them two or three days ago. Theyre a better a team on their home floor. With us not having the greatest offensive night, we just wanted to stay the course and get the job done -- which we were able to do." LaMarcus Aldridge scored 24 points and Damian Lillard added 18 to propel Portland to a bounce back win after a loss to Dallas on Saturday snapped a four-game winning streak. Robin Lopez chipped in 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Wesley Matthews added 16 points for the Blazers, who notched their second win over Utah in December. Reserve Alec Burks had 20 points for the Jazz, who dropped their fourth game in a row. Enes Kanter added 19 points and Gordon Hayward chipped in 17 for Utah, which trailed the entire second half after nine ties and nine lead changes in the first half. "I thought we were doing a better job out there," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "I thought execution on the offensive end is getting a lot better. Were sharing the ball." Portland played clean basketball to build a second-half cushion and hold off a late Jazz rally. The Blazers had 23 assists and shot 47.1 per cent (40 of 85) from the floor, while committing just 11 turnovers. Portland broke open a close game by making six straight baskets to start the third quarter. Aldridge drained a jumper to start the run and Matthews capped the spurt with a 3-pointer, giving Portland a 64-51 lead at the 8:29 mark. Kanter made a pair of baskets to shave the lead to 64-57. It only set the stage for another Blazers run. This time, Portland rattled off four unanswered baskets -- capped by Lopezs layup -- to extend its lead to 72-57 with 4:13 remaining in the third quarter. The Blazers shot a blistering 61.1 per cent (11 of 18) from the field in the third quarter. And they did it by finding holles in the Jazz defence and attacking them with precision.dddddddddddd "With our offence, I want us to be opportunistic with whatever the game gives us," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "If it gives us 3s, we knock them down. If it gives us the paint, thats good too with LaMarcus on the block. One thing weve done well with offensively is we take what the game gives us." Utah made another run at the Blazers midway through the fourth quarter. Back-to-back jumpers from Hayward cut Portlands lead to single digits. Then, Trey Burke made a pair of free throws to bring the Jazz within 89-82 with 5:45 remaining. Utah cut the lead to seven several more times and pulled within 97-92 on a pair of free throws from Hayward with 1:28 left. But then Batum and Lillard drained their consecutive 3-pointers to put the game out of reach during the final minute. "You play good D for like 22 or 23 seconds and they hit the crazy shots," Kanter said. "Its tough you know -- thats basketball. You cant think about it. We just need to learn how to close games." Burke and Kanter put on a two-man show for the Jazz in the first quarter. The duo combined for 13 of Utahs first 15 points to help the Jazz keep pace with the Blazers. Portland created a small cushion late in the first half. Trailing by one after a layup by Kanter, the Blazers scored six straight points and took a 40-35 lead on a pair of free throws from Aldridge. They extended the lead to 49-41 after Lopez dunked and Aldridge scored an uncontested layup on back-to-back possessions. "We played sluggish tonight," Aldridge said. "We didnt have that killer (instinct) in us tonight. Guys were just tired tonight. Every game cant be great. I thought tonight was a good win for us because we came here and didnt make shots, but guys still put it up." NOTES: Portland notched its first win in its last six trips to Utah. The Trail Blazers are off to their best start since 1990-91, when they won 27 of 30 games to open the season. Utah announced that former coach Jerry Sloan will be honoured with a banner raising ceremony on Jan. 31. Sloan coached the team from 1988 to 2011, recording 1,127 victories during his tenure. . Lopez had his ninth double-double of the season. ... Batum matched a season-high with 11 assists. . Burks is averaging 16.6 points per game in his last seven games for the Jazz. 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