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Predators-Blackhawks Preview @NHL

Saying the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks are headed in opposite directions would be a huge understatement.

The Predators, owners of the most points in the NHL, seek their fourth straight win over the struggling Blackhawks on Friday when the Central Division rivals meet at the United Center.

Nashville (34-12-3) closed the first half of the season with eight wins in nine games, moving past fellow division leaders Anaheim and Buffalo in the race for the league's best record with 71 points.

Chicago (17-24-7) has lost nine straight and is tied with Columbus for the second-fewest points in the Western Conference.

In their final game before the break, the Predators scored three goals in the final 12 minutes Saturday in a 6-3 victory over the Blackhawks.

Two of those goals were by David Legwand, who completed his first career hat trick with an empty-net tally. Legwand's final goal of the game was his 18th of the season, matching a career high, and the 97th of his career, a franchise record.

"Three goals is three goals and you move on from there," Legwand said. "It's nice to get three anytime that you can. Going into the game two goals behind I wasn't expecting to get the franchise record for goals in one game. I'm getting pucks in the back of the nets and that is always fun."

Legwand won't mind facing Chicago for the second consecutive game since he has six goals and five assists in six games against them this season.

Saturday's win was the sixth straight at home for Nashville, which leads the West with 16 road wins.

"Our guys showed a lot of character and toughness in this game, but what gets overlooked is we played six games in nine nights against some pretty good opponents and we finished 5-1," coach Barry Trotz said. "That's pretty strong. We have other goals in mind, but it is a good feeling to be where we're sitting today at the All-Star break."

Few teams can match the Predators' depth - both up front and in net. Nashville and Colorado are the only teams currently with eight players in double figures in goals.

Starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun, a former All-Star, was sidelined nearly two months with a thumb injury, but backup Chris Mason went 14-6-1 in his absence and currently leads the NHL with a .930 save percentage.

The Predators lost their first three meetings this season with the Blackhawks, but have taken the last three, scoring 14 goals in the past two.

The frustration of the nine-game skid got to Chicago coach Denis Savard late in Saturday's defeat as he was ejected in the final 38 seconds after receiving a game misconduct penalty.

"I was just applauding (the referees)," Savard said. "I wasn't satisfied with how the game was run tonight. I thought the team played hard and deserved better than what we got. A couple of our guys got high-sticked that weren't called, two of them at least."

Playing at home hasn't helped the Blackhawks, who have allowed 31 goals during a seven-game slide at the United Center.

Right wing Martin Havlat had two goals and an assist for the West in Wednesday's All-Star game. He has five goals and four assists in four games this season against Nashville.

Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin hasn't enjoyed quite the same success, going 3-3-0 with a 3.94 goals-against average this season versus the Predators.

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