GAME: Nashville Predators (26-20-6-2) at Chicago Blackhawks (14-29-7-5).
TIME: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. EST.
Although this season is shaping up to be the best in the brief history of
the Nashville Predators, earning the franchise's first playoff berth will
require an even better performance in the second half.
The Predators hope to avoid their first three-game losing streak in three
months when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks.
Nashville has failed to reach the playoffs in each of its first five
seasons, finishing with a franchise-best 34 wins and 80 points in 2000-01.
Although the Predators have been one of the league's biggest surprises in
the first half of this season, they are battling several teams for one of the
final four playoff spots in the Western Conference.
After losing just four of 16 games in January (10-4-2), Nashville began
February with consecutive losses to Detroit and Tampa Bay before the All-Star
break. The Predators last lost three straight from Nov. 2-7.
All-Star goaltender Tomas Vokoun played arguably the biggest role in
Nashville's strong first half, but entered the break in a slump. He allowed
four goals on 28 shots in a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday - the fifth time
in six games he has surrendered three goals or more.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz isn't worried about his goalie.
"With recognition comes a big target on your back, and he's going to have
to deal with that," Trotz said. "He'll deal with that fine. He's the backbone
of our defense and an All-Star."
While Nashville starts the second half of the season focused on making the
playoffs, Chicago may have to be content with just trying to avoid the worst
record in the West.
The Blackhawks, last in the conference with 40 points, should be happy to be
starting a five-game homestand.
Chicago leads the league with 22 road losses but has been a much stronger
home team, going 9-7-4-4 at the United Center.
Craig Anderson had the best game of his young career with 43 saves and Steve
Sullivan, Mark Bell and Nathan Dempsey scored in the third period, leading the
Blackhawks to a 4-1 victory at Toronto on Feb. 3.
"This is the best game I've ever played," Anderson said. "To come in here
and take two points from the Toronto Maple Leafs is a dream come true. Toronto
and Chicago were my two favorite teams as a kid."
The Blackhawks will be trying earn consecutive victories for the first time
since a three-game win streak from Nov. 1-7. They have won four straight at
home against the Predators.