Blackhawks visit Predators looking to clinch berth
Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 1:14 AMBLACKHAWKS (43-26-9) at PREDATORS (45-25-8)
TV: WGN, FS-TN (HD)
Chicago 7-1-2; Nashville 5-4-1
Sixth and final meeting between these Central Division rivals. Viktor Stalberg
scored in overtime as the Blackhawks won the initial matchup 5-4 on Oct. 31, but the Predators have taken the next four, including a 6-1 win this past Sunday. Patric Hornqvist leads Nashville with 4 goals and 7 points, while Marian Hossa
paces Chicago with 3 goals and 7 points.
The Blackhawks can clinch a playoff berth Saturday, but this game is a must if they want to catch the fourth-place Predators and have a shot at home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bigger picture, however, is when the team will get Jonathan Toews
back. He hasn't played in a game since Feb. 19, but is skating and reportedly targeted next Thursday against the Wild for his return.
"I always like to say, every day I'm getting more and more confident with where I'm at," Toews said this past Thursday in the Chicago Sun-Times. "I guess today would be one of those days. I'm getting very, very close. … I just have to get those legs going and try to get myself back to being as close to game shape as I can."
Even without its captain for more than a month now, Chicago has picked up at least a point in 12 of its last 14 games heading into the weekend. The Blackhawks' offense had sputtered recently in losses to the Predators and Devils, but they managed to put three on the board Thursday against the NHL's best defensive team in the Blues. The goals by Bryan Bickell
, Andrew Brunette
and Patrick Sharp
were only enough to get them into a shootout, though, where Dave Bolland
scored in the fourth round to lift Chicago to a 4-3 victory.
"Until you get in, don't take anything for granted … especially in our conference," Sharp said after the game. "Last year, it was taxing on a lot of players down the stretch there, trying to get in. And then when we did get in, you've got to ramp it back up for the playoffs. Hopefully we can get in, be one of the eight seeds and go from there."
It's the second division game in as many nights for Nashville, which leaped over Detroit and into sole possession of the No. 4 seed with Friday's 4-1 win at Joe Louis Arena, the 500th in the coaching career of Barry Trotz. The Predators showed why they could be serious contenders in the West, as Pekka Rinne stopped 31 shots for his NHL-leading 42nd win and Alexander Radulov scored his second goal since returning from the KHL and also set up a tally by Francis Bouillon.
"He was dynamic," Trotz said. "We deal with [Pavel Datsyuk] and some of the special things he can do all the time. [Radulov] is one of those special players who can do some special things, [too]. It was probably the first time for them seeing him as a mature player in this League."
In addition to scoring the decisive shootout goal Thursday, Bolland has 1 goal and 4 assists over his past seven games. … Predators captain Shea Weber has 3 goals in the last four games. Radulov has 2 goals and 3 assists in his first five games back with the team.
Chicago goalie Ray Emery
(upper body) is expected to be available. Toews (upper body) remains out, along with defensemen Sami Lepisto
(leg) and Steve Montador
(concussion-like symptoms). … Nashville forward Brian McGrattan (upper body) is out indefinitely.
Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford
has stopped 38 of 48 career shootout attempts, and his .792 save percentage is tops among active goalies who have faced at least 15 shots in the skills competition. … Rinne is 4-0-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .921 save percentage against Chicago this season. He also picked up his fifth assist of the season Friday night on Radulov's goal.
Nashville's players lauded Trotz after Friday's game for his milestone victory and what he's meant to the franchise as the only head coach in its history.
"Obviously, he was there for all of them and David Poile's won 500 with two franchises now," said David Legwand, who was the first draft pick in Predators history. "It's a great accomplishment and everyone's proud of [Trotz] and what he did. Everyone should know that it is quite an accomplishment and longevity and that sort of thing is huge."
Added Weber: "It means a lot to the franchise, especially Trotz being here the whole time. We've found a way [to be competitive]. We've just been getting better and better and we're taking steps in the right direction as a franchise. [Trotz] has been here since day one, some of the hardest days, and I can only imagine how hard it's been for him."