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|CHI||1||1||1||(0 - 0)||3|
One more victory can help the Chicago Blackhawks put years of misery behind them.
With their next win, the Blackhawks will clinch their first playoff berth in six seasons and second since 1996-97. If they want to celebrate Friday night at home, they will need to get past the feisty Nashville Predators, who have stayed in the postseason race despite mounting injuries.
Chicago (41-24-11) enters Friday's game nine points ahead of the Predators, who are ninth in the Western Conference with five games remaining. The Blackhawks are fifth with 93 points - one behind Calgary and Vancouver in the quest for home ice in the postseason's opening round.
"We want to get fourth in the conference," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "That's the motivation for us."
Chicago avoided a three-game losing streak Wednesday night with a 3-1 home win over St. Louis - its fourth victory in its last five games at the United Center. The Blackhawks scored twice in the first 15:52 and outshot the Blues 30-17 in support of Nikolai Khabibulin, who missed his second shutout of the season on a goal with 1.5 seconds left.
Patrick Sharp and Martin Havlat each had an assist as they continued their recent strong play. Sharp has three goals and three assists is six games since returning from a knee injury. Havlat, who leads the Blackhawks with a career-best 69 points, has five goals and 11 points in his last eight contests.
On Friday, Quenneville will likely stick with Khabibulin, who is 3-0-1 with a 1.47 goals-against average in his last four starts against the Predators.
Chicago is 1-2-1 this season against Nashville, but is 4-0-1 in the last five meetings between the teams at the United Center.
Already missing leading goal scorer Jason Arnott due to a concussion, the Predators (38-31-3) have lost forwards David Legwand and Martin Erat over the past two weeks.
Legwand, one of three Nashville players with 20 goals, is expected to miss two more weeks after fracturing his cheekbone in a March 24 practice. Erat, who is tied for second on the team with 50 points, is out for the season with a broken leg suffered during Sunday' 4-3 win at Detroit.
The Predators had a three-game winning streak snapped Tuesday night with a 2-1 loss at Columbus, as Raffi Torres beat Pekka Rinne with the game-winner with 15:55 remaining.
Nashville, though, enters Friday just one point behind St. Louis for the West's final playoff spot.
"We've just got to fight for points," said Predators coach Barry Trotz, whose team is seeking its fifth straight postseason berth. "I wish we would have been able to get a point. It's not necessarily about winning or losing, it's about getting points. Because you never know what point may get you in or may keep you out."
Rinne, who will likely start Friday, has allowed four total goals in two victories over Chicago this season.
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