Preview #79: Predators look to create space between them and Central Division rivals in standings
Chicago Blackhawks 43-26-9
Nashville Predators 45-25-8
The Nashville Predators reclaimed fourth spot in the Western Conference standings with their 4-1 win over Detroit on Friday night. Now, just shy of 24 hours later, the Predators will try to put some distance between themselves and their Central Division rivals when they host sixth place Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena.
The Blackhawks are only three points behind the Predators in the standings, and each team has four games remaining, including Saturday night’s tilt. Tonight’s game will be the second time this week the Predators play the Blackhawks on the back end of back-to-back contests. On Sunday, Nashville beat the Blackhawks 6-1 at the United Center.
Chicago remains without Norris Trophy winning defenseman Duncan Keith who will be serving the fourth game of a five-game suspension he received for an elbow to the head of Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks. Sedin is out of the Canucks lineup with a concussion, but the team hopes to have him back by the start of the playoffs.
Besides Keith, Jonathan Toews is out with a concussion and Steve Montador is out of the lineup with a suspected concussion.
The Predators have returned to being a healthy team as Martin Erat, Roman Josi and Jordin Tootoo all returned to the lineup against Detroit on Friday.
With a playoff berth on the line for the Blackhawks, Chicago is not likely to allow the Predators to dictate the pace of the game. Chicago has not found much success against the Predators this season, losing the last four games against Nashville. With a 4-0-1 record against Chicago this season, the Predators are looking to win their fifth consecutive game against the Blackhawks this season. Nashville has a 21-12-6 all-time record against the Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators have the second-best intra-division record in the Western Conference at 16-4-3 and the third-best in the League this season, behind only Boston with their 17-4-1 record and Vancouver with a 16-4-1 record. Arguably, however, the Central Division is much stronger than either the Northeast or Northwest divisions. No other Northwest Division team is currently in playoff position in the Western Conference and only Ottawa is currently in a playoff position besides Boston in the Northeast. Four Central Division teams will make the post season with three already clinching their playoff berths including St. Louis, Nashville, and Detroit.
After tonight, the Predators play three more games in the regular season, two at home including Minnesota on Tuesday and Dallas on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena. The regular season wraps up a week from tonight when Nashville visits Colorado.