Central showdown in Chicago tonight
Going into tonight's game, the Blackhawks are just 1-4 against the Nashville Predators, and they'll still have one more game to play against these division rivals at the end of the week. The Hawks are also down one of their best defensemen, as Duncan Keith sits out the first of five games in his suspension after a high hit against Daniel Sedin in last Wednesday's game vs the Canucks. Team captain Jonathan Toews is closer to returning but still also watching from the sidelines, as are defensemen Steve Montador and Sami Lepistö, and forward Marcus Krüger.
Nashville won 3-1 over the Winnipeg Jets in their own building last night; but they're just 2-3-1 over their past five games and 5-4-1 in their last ten. Pekka Rinne remains one of the top goalies in the league, just one of two goalies to tally 40 wins so far this season (Marc-Andre Fleury is the other), with 0.922 sv% and 2.43 GAA; no doubt his name will be in the Vezina mix again this spring. The Predators have also added Alexander Radulov to their mix late in the season. Although Radulov has been playing in the KHL, the fact that he was still under his ECL with the Predators meant he could be returned to the team without having to pass through waivers - and after the trade deadline as well. Radulov has the offensive punch that the Preds have lacked, which makes Nashville's chances better to make it out of the first round again this year.
The Central remains tightly competitive, with the St. Louis Blues on track to battle it out with the NY Rangers for the President's Trophy, while the Red Wings, Predators and Blackhawks fight it out for 4th, 5th, and 6th in the West. Every game is vital, and with 4 points at stake between tonight and Saturday, expect tonight's tilt to have playoff-level intensity.
After the last time these two teams met, Chicago winger/center Patrick Kane took particular exception to some post-game comments by Nashville coach Barry Trotz, in which he called out some of the Blackhawks players for "cheating all over the ice" to look for breakouts and not playing a full 200-foot game. That particular game was the 9th loss in the Blackhawks epic mid-season losing streak, and since these teams last saw each other, Chicago has gone 13-4-1.
Corey Crawford has won back his net for Chicago. He's 0.953 sv% / 1.05 GAA in his past 5 games, and 0.926 sv% / 1.90 GAA over the past 12 games that he's played in, stretching back to 2/16 vs the NY Rangers. Tonight, it'll be Crawford vs. Rinne in net.
It's a special night in Chicago for goalies, as it's Ed Belfour Heritage Night. As a result, Crawford and Rinne will be taking the ceremonial puck drop before the game as part of the ceremony to honor Belfour.
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The puck drops tonight at 6:30pm CDT; the game will be broadcast on NBCSN in the States and TSN2 in Canada, and can be found on WGN 720 AM radio (phone app available).