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Desperate Predators host League-leading Blackhawks

by John Manasso /

BLACKHAWKS (27-5-4) at PREDATORS (15-15-8)

TV: CSN Chicago, FS-TN

Last 10: Chicago 6-3-1, Nashville 4-4-2

Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks have won both meetings, 3-0 on Feb. 10 at Bridgestone Arena and 3-2 by shootout at the United Center last Monday. In that game, the Nashville Predators rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period to force overtime. Three of the Predators' final 10 games are against Chicago.

Big story: While Chicago is coasting to the Central Division title, the Predators are fighting for their Stanley Cup Playoff lives. The Predators entered Friday 11th in the Western Conference but only two points out of the eighth and final spot. They are handicapped by having played 38 games, the most in their conference.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Chicago is coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday in which it could not hold a 2-1 third-period lead. Not being able to hold a late lead has hurt the Blackhawks of late.

"It's happened a lot lately," forward Bryan Bickell told the Daily Herald. "I think we just need to keep it simple. I don't know if the bounces aren't going our way right now, but those mistakes that are coming between the blue lines, we need to fix them."

Center Michal Handzus, acquired from San Jose, made his debut for Chicago in that game, winning 10 of 14 faceoffs.

Predators: Nashville needs to find a combination for its forwards to score. After the trade of right wing Martin Erat, who was tied for the team lead in points at the time, to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, no Nashville forwards scored on Thursday in a 3-1 home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Coach Barry Trotz tried to keep two-thirds of Erat's old line together on Thursday, playing checking center Paul Gaustad with left wing Sergei Kostitsyn and moving center Mike Fisher to right wing, as Fisher was just returning from an upper-body injury that kept him out for three games. Trotz was trying to lighten Fisher's burden. Kostitsyn, Fisher and Erat had formed Nashville's top line for much the past three seasons.

Trotz said he would likely abandon that experiment, so look for new, scrambled lines. Kostitsyn went minus-2 in the game. Other possibilities for offense are wing Bobby Butler, who has been a healthy scratch of late.

Defenseman Ryan Ellis was recalled from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis to play Thursday, as second-pair defenseman Victor Bartley was ill. Bartley did not practice on Friday but Trotz said he thought Bartley had a good chance to play on Saturday.

Who's hot: Chicago rookie Brandon Saad has five goals and 13 assists in his past 17 games. Captain Jonathan Toews, who is second on the team with 38 points, recorded the 200th assist of his career on Thursday. Leading scorer Patrick Kane has registered 11 multi-point games this season. … For Nashville, second-year defenseman Roman Josi has two goals and seven assists in his past 11 games. Center David Legwand has seven points (three goals, four assists) in five games. Right wing Patric Hornqvist has five points (one goal, four assists) in that same span.

Injury report: For Chicago, forward Patrick Sharp (shoulder) has missed the last 12 games. .. Nashville forward Gabriel Bourque, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, is likely out. Center Colin Wilson (upper body) is on injured reserve.

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