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Predators aim to avoid three-game skid against Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

PREDATORS (14-14-7) at BLACKHAWKS (26-5-3)


Last 10: Nashville 4-5-1; Chicago 5-5-0

Season series: This will be the second of five games between the clubs, with Chicago holding a 1-0-0 edge after shutting out Nashville 3-0 on Feb. 10 at Bridgestone Arena.

Big story: Chicago is still on top of the Western Conference standings with 55 points and is aiming to raise its level of play back to the elite level heading into the season’s final month. Nashville has lost two games in a row and six of its past 10 to drop into a pack of five teams that are all within striking distance of the eighth and final playoff spot.

Team scope:

Predators: After breaking out of a four-game losing skid with a three-game win streak, the Preds have dropped two more in a row. After losing to the last-place Colorado Avalanche 1-0 in overtime on the road Saturday, Nashville comes to the Windy City needing to get back into the win column just to avoid losing pace with other potential playoff qualifiers currently out of the picture.

"We are still in the race and it is still in our own hands," Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said after stopping 23 shots against the Avs, but allowing the game-winner to Tyson Barrie 50 seconds into overtime. "We have to get some points, get some wins here. Their goalie played really well and we didn't score any goals and we did not get the win.”

Blackhawks: After blowing out the arch rival Detroit Red Wings 7-1 at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon, the Blackhawks again look like the team that started the season without losing in regulation for an unprecedented 24 straight games. The fact they did it without star forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa is a clear message that Chicago is still one of the League’s elite teams despite losing three of the previous four games prior to thumping the Red Wings. Even better news for the Hawks is that Sharp and/or Hossa might return against the Predators.

“It goes without saying the difference those two guys make for us, but the reality is we have to find a way to play without them,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told on Sunday. “This goes to show we’ve got a lot of skill on this team, a lot of guys that can step up and put pucks on net and make things happen.”

Who’s hot: Martin Erat has a goal and seven assists in the past four contests for Nashville. … Chicago’s Patrick Kane had an eight-game points streak snapped against Detroit in which he’d scored six goals and added nine assists. Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy has four goals in the past seven games.

Injury report: Mike Fisher (bruised hand) missed the Colorado game for the Preds, while forward Colin Wilson (upper body) and defenseman Scott Hannan (upper body) are on injured reserve. … Hossa and Sharp are both questionable for returns from injured reserve with upper-body injuries for Chicago.

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