The Nashville Predators have battled for the top seed in the Western Conference throughout the season while chasing the first division title in their eight-year existence. A recent slump, however, has forced them to focus on just making sure they secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Predators, second in the Central Division, look to break out of their slump and move closer to clinching at least the fourth seed in the West when they host the woeful Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
Nashville (49-23-7) has lost six of its last nine to drop three points behind division-leading Detroit, with each team having three games remaining. The Predators lost four times to the Red Wings in March.
"You let up a little bit and teams keep playing well, the next thing you know you're sliding down the pole," Nashville center Jason Arnott said. "This time of year is the toughest. We just have to bounce back and come together as a group and try to win as many as we can from now until the end."
Nashville's hold on fourth place in the West got a little shakier with its 4-2 loss to Dallas on Saturday. The Preds are trying to hold off the Stars and San Jose Sharks for the spot.
The Predators surrendered two goals in the first five minutes and were outshot 11-4 in the first period. Greg Zanon and Alexander Radulov scored for Nashville, but the Predators couldn't overcome the early two-goal deficit and lost for the second straight game. They haven't dropped three in a row since their first three games in December.
"This might be a great wake-up call," Predators coach Barry Trotz said Saturday, preferring to look at his team's recent struggles as a potential positive.
The Predators will face a Chicago club that has been eliminated from postseason contention, but is looking to match a season high with its third straight win.
The Blackhawks (29-40-9) have won back-to-back games following six consecutive losses. They've won three in a row twice this season.
Patrick Sharp scored a short-handed goal early in the third period to snap a tie and give the Blackhawks a 2-1 victory over Edmonton on Sunday. Sharp's goal was his career-high 20th of the season.
"I want be a guy who helps the team in all situations," Sharp said. "On penalty killing, (Chicago coach Denis Savard) seems to trust me out there. It feels nice to help the team with a game-winner."
Chicago is 2-6-1 in its last nine road games, while Nashville has one of the best home records in the NHL at 27-8-4. The Predators, though, have lost two in a row at home, their first back-to-back losses at the Gaylord Entertainment Center since January 2006. They haven't lost three in a row there since March 2003.
The Blackhawks took the first three games of the season series, averaging 5.0 goals per game in those contests. Since that losing streak, the Predators have won the last four meetings by a combined score of 19-8, including a 3-1 victory in their last matchup Jan. 26.