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Heading into their final three games of the regular season, the Nashville Predators are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. They also have their captain back and apparently at full strength.
Jason Arnott and the Predators look to improve their postseason chances Tuesday night when they host the Chicago Blackhawks, who recently qualified for the playoffs.
Nashville (39-32-8) is eighth in the Western Conference and tied with St. Louis at 89 points, although the Predators hold the tiebreaker with one more victory. Both clubs are two points behind seventh-place Anaheim, though the Preds and Blues have a game in hand on the Ducks.
The Predators are playing their final home game before visiting Detroit on Thursday and Minnesota - another playoff hopeful - the following night to close out the regular season.
If Arnott produces like he did in his first game back after missing 11 games with a concussion, Nashville should have a good chance at making the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
The center had two goals and an assist to lead the Predators to a 5-4 shootout win over Columbus on Saturday. The performance came a day after Arnott watched his teammates fall 3-1 at Chicago.
"I was looking at the faces of the guys on the team and they looked pretty tired," Arnott said. "They have been through a lot.
"I was pretty determined to play. I talked it over with my wife and she kind of hinted against it. But I wanted to get back and help the team as much as I can."
Despite the lengthy absence, Arnott leads Nashville with 29 goals and is second on the team with 52 points.
He has a goal and two assists in his three games against the Blackhawks (43-24-11) this season with the Predators winning each of them. They lost the other two matchups of the season without him.
Arnott has four goals and two assists in the last six meetings with the Blackhawks at Sommet Center, helping the Preds win four of them.
The Blackhawks clinched their first postseason berth since 2002 by beating Nashville 3-1 on Friday. They're fourth in the conference and looking to extend their win streak to four after Sunday's 1-0 victory at Columbus, which snapped a season-high five-game road losing streak.
Kris Versteeg scored the lone goal, matching his output from the previous 10 games.
The 22-year-old left wing ranks second among rookies with 51 points and third with 22 goals - four short-handed - making him a contender for the Calder Trophy, which was won by the Hawks' Patrick Kane last season. Versteeg, however, has one point in six games against Nashville.
Chicago hopes Patrick Sharp can return soon after he missed Sunday's game with a knee injury suffered in the first period against the Preds. The right wing, listed as day-to-day, is second on the club with 26 goals.
Sharp sat out 16 games due to a left knee injury from Feb. 17-March 22. He's been held without a point in the last three matchups with Nashville.
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