Blackhawks seek to clinch playoff berth in Nashville
Two seasons ago, the Blackhawks and Predators battled their way through the first series in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was an unforgettable series, marked in particular by Game 5, where Marian Hossa scored a dramatic overtime goal that helped tip the series in Chicago's favorite. The rest of the season is history, of course, as the Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Last season, the Predators made team history when they reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time. This year, they'd like to go a little further - perhaps even all the way. Last night's win for the Predators was the 500th for head coach Barry Trotz, the only coach in Nashville's history; both Trotz and his players would like to bring a Stanley Cup home to Tennessee.
Nashville has already clinched their playoff berth. Last night in Detroit, in a preview of the most likely first-round matchup in the Western Conference, the Preds beat the Red Wings 4-1 as Pekka Rinne turned in yet another stunning performance.
The Blackhawks roll into Nashville for the sixth and final meeting of the regular season between these two teams. The last time they faced off was just a few days ago in Chicago, when the Blackhawks were caught flat-footed at home with a 6-1 loss. While of course the team should hope to redeem themselves after such an embarassing loss late in the season, there is more on the line: the Blackhawks can clinch their playoff berth on Saturday night.
The game also carries weight because the Blackhawks are close enough to the Predators and the Red Wings in the standings that it is even possible to steal home ice for the playoffs away from either team.
Mostly, however, the Blackhawks need to focus on getting at least one point out of the game, and playing a solid, 60-minute game against a team that has frustrated them all season.
Team captain Jonathan Toews remains out of the lineup, but reports from practices indicate he may return to play for either or both of the final two games of the Blackhawks' season. Defenseman Sami Lepistö is also reportedly on the brink of return; while Steve Montador remains out indefinitely. Backup goalie Ray Emery is expected to return to play. For the Predators, Brian McGrattan is currently out.
Despite being without Toews, the Blackhawks have taken at least a point out of 12 of their past 14 games and are 7-1-2 over the past ten.
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The puck drops at 7:00 pm CDT in Nashville; locally, you can find the game on WGN-TV and also WGN 720 AM radio (phone app available).