NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Friday, April 3rd (All times eastern)
Nashville Predators (38-31-1) at Chicago Blackhawks (41-21-11), 8:30 p.m.
(Sports Network) - The Chicago Blackhawks can clinch their first playoff spot in six seasons tonight with a win over the Nashville Predators at the United Center.
Chicago owns a nine-point edge over ninth-seeded Nashville with six games remaining and a game in hand over the Predators, meaning a regulation win would clinch the Blackhawks' first postseason spot since 2001-02.
It would also mark just the second playoff appearance for the once-proud franchise in 11 seasons. That fruitless string follows 28 consecutive seasons of playoff hockey in the Windy City, though the franchise hasn't lifted a Stanley Cup since 1961, the longest current championship drought in the league.
Chicago snapped a two-game skid on Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over the Blues, picking up its fourth win in the last six contests. That has the Blackhawks fifth overall in the Western Conference and one point behind Vancouver and Calgary for the fourth seed and the final spot with home-ice advantage in the playoff's first round.
Jonathan Toews netted his 31st goal of the season in the first period of Wednesday's win, and Samuel Pahlsson also scored in the opening frame. Colin Fraser added a short-handed goal for Chicago and Nikolai Khabibulin needed to make only 16 saves.
Patrick Kane, meanwhile, added an assist to post his first point in seven games.
Chicago picked up its fourth win in its last five home games and is 22-9-7 at the United Center this season. The club hits the road for two straight following this battle.
The Predators have notched a win in three of their four meetings with the Blackhawks so far this year, but the club has dropped four of its last five trips to Chicago.
Despite injuries to four of its top six scorers, Nashville remains in the playoff picture in the Western Conference. The Predators are one point back of eighth-seeded St. Louis and two behind Anaheim with a game in hand over both clubs.
The rash of injuries finally caught up with the Predators on Tuesday, when they were defeated by Columbus 2-1 to end a three-game winning streak. Cal O'Reilly had the lone goal and Pekka Rinne made 31 stops in the loss.
Nashville has played the last 10 games without its leading goal scorer, Jason Arnott, who has 27 goals but is out with a concussion. Also, Martin Erat, tied for second on the club with 50 points is not expected to play again this regular season due to a fractured left fibula, while David Legwand and his 42 points have missed the last four games with a broken cheekbone.
The Predators weren't any better off following Tuesday's loss. J.P. Dumont, tops on the club with 44 assists and 59 points, suffered a head injury versus the Blue Jackets, while Antti Philstrom left due to an upper-body ailment. Both players are questionable for tonight.
Nashville is 15-19-4 on the road this year and will play its next two games at home.
04/03 10:52:54 ET