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Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Nashville Predators (36-28-11-4) at Chicago Blackhawks (20-41-11-7).

TIME: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

The final few games of the Nashville Predators' push for their first postseason berth won't be easy.

The playoff-hopeful Predators try to complete a home-and-home sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks when the teams meet at the United Center.

Nashville is battling St. Louis and Edmonton for one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference as the season heads into the final weekend. The Predators can assure themselves of the franchise's first playoff berth with wins in their final three games regardless of what the Blues or Oilers do.

"We're in a position now that we hold our own destiny," Nashville's David Legwand said. "We hold where we go, and that's exciting for the guys in this room."

The Predators' remaining schedule, however, is not an easy one.

After facing Chicago, they visit St. Louis pm Saturday before closing the regular season Sunday at Colorado, which could still be playing for the Northwest Division title.

Legwand and Martin Erat each had a goal and two assists in Nashville's 5-2 victory over the visiting Blackhawks on Tuesday.

The Predators are 13-1-2-0 this season when Erat scores a goal.

Beating the last-place Blackhawks hasn't been easy for the Predators, who were 0-3-1 in four meetings this season before Tuesday.

Though this matchup has no playoff implications for the Blackhawks, coach Brian Sutter is looking forward to the rematch.

"They came out hard," Sutter said. "Give them credit. It's all about competing and battling, but they didn't do anything special. On all five of their goals, we assisted. I'm looking forward to Thursday night."

Tuesday's loss extended the Blackhawks' winless streak to 0-3-2-1 and left them with two wins in the last 17 games (2-9-4-2).

Rookie Tuomo Ruutu scored both Chicago goals, giving him eight goals and eight assists in 15 games in March.

Jocelyn Thibault allowed five goals on 35 shots Tuesday - his second straight poor performance after missing nearly five months due to hip surgery.

"Hopefully, I won't make the same mistakes Thursday," Thibault said. "I can play a lot better."

STANDINGS (through March 30): Predators - 87 points, 3rd place, 18 PB, Central Division. Blackhawks - 58 points, 5th place, 47 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Predators - Scott Walker, 25 goals; Steve Sullivan, 48 assists and 71 points; Jordin Tootoo, 137 PIM. Blackhawks - Tyler Arnason, 22 goals and 54 points; Bryan Berard, 33 assists; Scott Nichol, 135 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 30): Predators - Power play: 16.7 percent (70 for 418), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.4 percent (280 for 344), 26th. Blackhawks - Power play: 15.8 percent (54 for 342), 18th. Penalty killing: 84.4 percent (313 for 371), 14th.

GOALTENDERS: Predators - Tomas Vokoun (33-28-10, 3 SO, 2.56 GAA); Chris Mason (3-4-1, 1, 2.28). Blackhawks - Thibault (5-5-2, 1, 2.65); Adam Munro (1-4-1, 3.97).

SEASON SERIES: Blackhawks, 3-1-1.

LAST MEETING: March 30; Predators, 5-2. At Nashville, Tenn., second-period goals by Legwand and Adam Hall staked the Predators to a 4-0 lead before Ruutu scored with 72 seconds left in the middle period.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Predators - 14-19-4-2 on the road; Blackhawks - 13-16-6-5 at home.

Associated Press
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