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Hawks continue Presidents' Trophy push vs. Preds

by David Kalan

PREDATORS (15-22-7) at BLACKHAWKS (33-5-4)


Last 10: Nashville 1-7-2; Chicago 8-1-1

Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks go into Friday night looking for a sweep of their season series with the Nashville Predators. Chicago has won all four previous meetings with Nashville, including a 5-3 win at the United Center on April 7 in the last game between the two teams.

Big story: Already eliminated from the postseason hunt, the Predators will try to salvage some momentum to build on for 2013-14 against the Blackhawks, who have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Team Scope:

Predators: For the first time in four years and just the second time in the last nine seasons, Nashville will be getting an extended summer vacation after being officially eliminated from playoff contention with Monday's 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Playing out the string is unusual for coach Barry Trotz and his team, as the Predators have been one of the most consistent playoff qualifiers in the League for the past decade, but Nashville has been undone by injuries, a struggling offense and a losing streak at a particularly inopportune time.

Nashville was still clinging to its postseason hopes as the season entered its final month, but the Predators have lost a stunning seven games in a row; each loss came in regulation, no less. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the losing streak is that Nashville played six of those seven games at home.

Blackhawks: Chicago sits on the other side of the spectrum from Nashville, but has relatively the same amount to play for Friday night. As the Blackhawks enjoyed a night off Wednesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets edged the Anaheim Ducks in overtime, clinching the top overall seed in the West for idle Chicago. Wrapping up home ice with six games to play in the regular season is a tremendous luxury due in no small part to the Blackhawks' historic start to the season.

Coach Joel Quenneville has already said Chicago plans to take advantage, resting a number of players both in practice and games to make sure the team is as fresh as can be when the playoffs begin. That isn't to say the Blackhawks have nothing to play for at all, of course. They lead the Pittsburgh Penguins in the race for the NHL's best record by four points while also having a game in hand. If Chicago holds its lead through next Saturday it will clinch the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy in 22 years, but given that just one Presidents' Trophy winner has won the Stanley Cup in the past decade, Quenneville may prioritize the rest and keep his players focused on a different piece of silver.

Who's hot: Bobby Butler has scored twice in the last three games for Nashville. … Marian Hossa has five points in his last four games for Chicago.

Injury report: Ray Emery (back) is considered doubtful for Chicago, while Patrick Sharp (upper body) will be out for the third game in a row. … Kevin Klein (undisclosed) is questionable for Nashville, as are Brandon Yip (lower body) and Mike Fisher (hand). Patric Hornqvist (upper body) is expected to miss his third straight game.

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