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Predators, Blackhawks face off in home-and-home

by Tal Pinchevsky /
BLACKHAWKS (24-18-3) at PREDATORS (23-14-6)


Last 10 --
Chicago 6-4-0; Nashville 6-4-0

Season series --
It's the third of six meetings between these Central Division rivals and the first in a home-and-home weekend series. In their previous meeting on Dec. 22, Jack Skille scored twice in a 4-1 Hawks win. Prior to that, Nashville had won the previous two games between these teams.

Big story --
Chicago’s current three-game win streak and Nashville’s recent six-game run have allowed both teams to come within striking distance of division-leading Detroit. The playoff picture isn't quite so simple. While the Preds and Hawks currently occupy the fifth and seventh spots respectively in the Western Conference, only six points separate fourth-place Phoenix from twelfth-place San Jose.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks --
While technically a rookie, goaltender Corey Crawford had gone roughly three years since recording his first and only NHL shutout. He appears to have made up for lost time, with a 22-save performance in Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Colorado earning Crawford his second straight shutout. The 26-year-old has now gone 126:25 without allowing a goal, including a perfect shootout performance in a 3-2 win over Ottawa on Jan. 7.

"I think he improves every day, he's learning the league, he's more familiar with his defense in front of him," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's been consistent all year for us, he's very confident. When you get on a roll, the puck looks big to you."

Predators --
In its recent six-game win streak, Nashville demonstrated the ability to play tough in low-scoring games before pulling ahead late for the victory. So it was surprising on Thursday night when that streak was snapped in a 3-2 loss in Florida that saw the Preds blow a late 2-1 lead over the Panthers.

Considering the loss came against a Florida team known for blowing late leads instead of overcoming them, the Predators were reminded of the streaky play they have been prone to this season. Before their recent winning streak, the Predators had lost five straight. That streak came on the heels of a five-game win streak.

"When our urgency level comes down, our desperation comes down, then we lose hockey games," coach Barry Trotz said. "We have to learn from the last two long winning streaks when we had long losing streaks after."

Who's hot -- Patrick Kane is riding a five-game points streak and has 7 points in eight games since returning Dec. 28 from a lower-body injury. … With a goal and an assist in Florida, Nashville's David Legwand has 7 points in his last seven games. Preds captain Shea Weber also extended his points streak to seven games.

Injury report --
Other than Nick Boynton, who is questionable for Saturday with flu-like symptoms, Chicago is healthy. … Nashville forwards Martin Erat (upper body), Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Cal O’Reilly (broken leg) and Steve Sullivan (lower body) are all on IR, while Jordin Tootoo is excused from the team for personal reasons.

Stat pack -- After both players finished in the top 28 in plus/minus last season, the duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook established themselves among the League's top defensive pairings. But the Hawks' duo is now trying to turn the corner following a tough stretch. After a post-Christmas hangover saw the two defensemen combine for a minus-9 rating over a seven-game stretch, they have combined for 4 points and a plus-10 rating in the Hawks' last two games.

Puck drop --
Nashville holds a slight 33-32-2-5 edge over Chicago since its inaugural 1998-99 season. That parity could make for a compelling matchup in their upcoming Feb. 24 contest in Nashville, a game that could hold major playoff implications.

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