BLACKHAWKS (24-7-5) at PREDATORS (16-14-3)
TV: CSN-CH, FS-TN
Last 10: Chicago 6-3-1; Nashville 5-4-1
Season series: Despite being separated by 18 points in the Central Division standings, the Nashville Predators actually lead the season series with the Chicago Blackhawks, having won their only previous game of the season in impressive fashion, blowing out the defending Stanley Cup champions 7-2 on Nov. 16 at Bridgestone Arena. The teams will play three more games after Tuesday.
Big story: With the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche nipping at their heels, the Blackhawks will look to hold their lead in the increasingly tight Central when they take a quick trip to visit their division foe. The Predators have won three straight games and are slowly climbing into the wild card race.
Blackhawks: The only Chicago loss this season that might have jarred the team as much as its loss to Nashville in mid-November came this past Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blackhawks, after three straight wins in which they scored a combined 19 goals, were beaten up by the Maple Leafs, 7-3. Chicago had 24 hours to recover from the loss, but did so in impressive fashion, scoring three times in the first period in an eventual 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings. It was the first game between Chicago and L.A. since the Blackhawks defeated the Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final this past spring.
"It's nice to see that we can rebound from that," said captain Jonathan Toews, who had two assists in the win. "It doesn't take us long to get back to our good habits."
After facing the Predators on Tuesday, the Blackhawks return to Chicago for a three-game homestand.
Predators: Given how competitive the tops of the Central and Pacific divisions are, the Predators seem to have recognized the time is now to begin making a push for a playoff berth. After struggling through early December with an anemic offense, the Predators have found their scoring touch over the three-game winning steak.
Nashville has 10 goals over its past three games, wins against the New York Rangers, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks. While the Predators have certainly been scoring at an improved clip, goalie Carter Hutton has also managed to give them opportunities to win with starter Pekka Rinne injured. Hutton has dazzled over the past week, posting a .948 save percentage and earning the NHL's Third Star of the Week.
Nashville's game Tuesday ends a three-game homestand, but the exodus will be brief. The Predators will still play four of their next six games in the Music City.
Injury report: The Blackhawks should get a reinforcement Tuesday night after activating forward Bryan Bickell (lower body) off injured reserve Monday. Goalies Corey Crawford (lower body) and Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) are both out. … The Predators are still without Rinne (hip infection), as well as forward Filip Forsberg (upper body).
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