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Blackhawks Buzz: Streaking Preds arrive for final regular-season matchup

by Eric Lear / Chicago Blackhawks


1. LOOKING FORWARD

Sometimes the best thing to do after a bad loss is to get right back on the ice and move past it as quickly as possible. But with three off days after a blowout 6-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild at TCF Bank Stadium, the Blackhawks didn’t have that luxury. However, the rest may be more important in the long run. The Blackhawks have just 20 games left, and points are paramount given the tight race atop the Central Division. Chicago is one point behind first-place Dallas and two points ahead of third-place St. Louis Blues. Down the stretch, the Blackhawks will face divisional rivals eight more times, including two tilts each against Dallas, Minnesota and St. Louis, in addition to four games against the Pacific and seven matchups against Eastern Conference teams.

2. PREDLINE NEWS

The Predators may be sitting in fourth place, 10 points back of the Blues, but they’re first in the Western Conference Wild Card race. Nashville took down the Maple Leafs 3-2 on Tuesday in Toronto, picking up at least one point in the standings for the seventh straight game, a stretch that includes overtime losses to Tampa Bay, Dallas and Los Angeles—three teams that are at or around the top of their respective divisions. The Predators are currently a confident team away from home after winning seven of their last eight road games, most impressively posting a 5-0 shutout of the first-place Florida Panthers. They’re getting results by putting the puck in the net, especially on the power play (6 of their 24 goals over that eight-game span have come with the man advantage). With the Blackhawks struggling lately on the penalty kill, staying out of the box against one of the league’s more tenacious possession teams will be paramount to Chicago’s chances of claiming two points.

3. USING THE FORS

Filip Forsberg scored all three goals for Nashville in Tuesday’s win—his 21st, 22nd and 23rd of the year. Per Elias Sports Bureau, the 21-year-old is the youngest player in franchise history to record a regular-season hat trick. The second-year pro also has a postseason hat trick to his credit; he tallied three goals in Game 5 of Nashville’s First Round series against Chicago in last year’s playoffs. The 2012 first-round pick has netted 12 points in his last nine games, a stretch that includes a couple of three-point nights.

“He’s one guy that you have to be aware of when he’s on the ice,” Corey Crawford said. “He has a deceiving shot.”

Forsberg’s team-leading 23 goals are three shy of tying his career high set last season, and he’s been a consistent contributor in all situations for Nashville. He ranks second among team forwards with 19:08 of ice time per game, up from 17:19 in 2014-15, and most of that additional time has come from shifts on the penalty kill; he scored his first NHL shorthanded goal on Feb. 6 against San Jose.

4. NET CONCERNS

Pekka Rinne’s numbers have taken a dip this year after a stellar 2014-15 season. In 49 games, the 33-year-old has a 22-18-9 record while allowing 121 goals, second-most in the NHL (Ottawa’s Craig Anderson has allowed 129.) His .906 save percentage ranks 34th in the league (min. 25 games played), and he’s 21st league-wide with a 2.47 goals-against average. Consistency has been an issue: Rinne is 3-3-2 in his last eight starts, which includes a 29-save shutout against Boston but also a loss to Philadelphia in which he allowed six goals on 19 shots. Rinne has seen a lot of Chicago throughout his career, and should he get the start Thursday, it’ll mark his 35th game against the Blackhawks, tying St. Louis for the team he’s faced the most. The 33-year-old has a 15-14-4 lifetime record against Chicago with a .917 SV%.

5. DEPTH CHARGE

During Wednesday’s practice, Joel Quenneville mixed up his bottom-six forwards by moving Teuvo Teravainen to center alongside Dennis Rasmussen and Andrew Desjardins, while Phillip Danault slotted down to center a line with Brandon Mashinter on the left and Jiri Sekac on the right side. The line changes could be an effort to jump-start the bottom six forwards offensively. Outside of Teravainen, who has 10 goals, and Desjardins, who has a career-high seven tallies, no other bottom-six forward has been all that productive, and the Blackhawks know more than anyone that depth scoring is an important key to achieving postseason success. Teravainen has been one of the team’s most versatile players this season. The 21-year-old has played multiple positions on three of the four lines in addition to seeing time on the power play and penalty kill, and finding the right complements for him will be a priority entering the stretch.

THE FINAL WORD

The Blackhawks have fared well against Nashville dating back to last postseason, and heading into their final regular-season meeting on Thursday, the Blackhawks have a 3-1 series lead over the Preds, which includes two 4-1 victories; the only blemish was a 5-1 defeat in Nashville on Dec. 10. The Blackhawks should come out of the gates flying after a frustrating loss Sunday in Minnesota that featured some costly turnovers and bad coverage in the defensive zone. If Chicago can dictate the pace of play early in the game and get back to their strong possession style against an opponent that’s been one of the best shot suppression teams in the league this season, they should be able to chip away at the Nashville defense and test Rinne’s resolve.

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