Instead of setting up a game with major playoff implications, the Nashville Predators have put an end to the drama surrounding what teams will make the playoffs in the Western Conference
|Jan Hlavac (left) assisted on all three Nashville goals Thursday night. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
In their final game of the season, the Predators try and move into seventh place in the West when they visit the recently eliminated Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.
One night before their head-to-head meeting in Chicago, Nashville (41-31-9) ended the Blackhawks' playoff hopes with a 3-2 victory over St. Louis.
A few hours after Thursday's win, the Predators secured a playoff spot in the West when Vancouver lost 2-1 to Edmonton.
Had Nashville lost on Thursday, Chicago (39-33-8) would have remained three points back with two games to play. The Blackhawks are 4-0-1 against the Predators since Dec. 19, outscoring them 20-9 in those contests.
Nashville, which has won five of six, can still move into seventh place in the West with a win over Chicago, coupled with a Calgary loss at Vancouver on Saturday.
On Thursday, J.P. Dumont scored the tying goal with 2:14 left in the second period and assisted on Greg de Vries' game-winning goal at 4:01 of the third.
Jan Hlavac, who joined the Predators at the trade deadline, assisted on all three goals on Thursday, and has points on the last four game-winning goals.
"Hlavac has really fit in, especially on the line with (Jason) Arnott and Dumont," Nashville coach Bary Trotz said. "He is a very intelligent player. He plays well without the puck. You can tell he has played with very highly-skilled players."
Goaltender Dan Ellis stopped 27 shots on Thursday, and is 4-0-1 with a 1.33 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last six starts. Ellis is 1-1-1 with a 2.67 GAA against the Blackhawks this season.
Chicago's playoff run came up short despite beating Detroit 6-2 on Wednesday to improve to 5-1-1 since March 19.
|Patrick Sharp (left) has had a breakout season, playing a big part in the Blackhawks' rebirth. (AP Photo/Jerry Lai)
Although the Blackhawks are missing the playoffs for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons, this season has not been a total disappointment.
Chicago has amassed 15 more points than 2006-07, and has been led by promising rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and a breakout season from Patrick Sharp.
Kane had a goal and two assists in Wednesday's victory, to reclaim the NHL rookie scoring lead. Kane has 69 points, one ahead of Washington's Nicklas Backstrom.
"That comes in a bonus with the win," said Kane, who has a goal and seven assists in seven games against Nashville. "That's special. It would be big for the organization and myself, especially coming in here and not having many expectations."
Toews leads all rookies with 23 goals, and has four goals and five assists in six games against the Predators.
Sharp leads the Blackhawks with a career-high 36 goals, and has six goals and two assists in his last six games versus Nashville.
Nikolai Khabibulin made 26 saves on Wednesday, to improve to 5-1-1 with a 2.37 GAA since March 19 after missing 12 games with back spasms. He is 2-1-2 with a 2.95 GAA against the Predators this season.
The Blackhawks play their final home game of the season Friday, and have won four straight at the United Center, outscoring opponents 20-9 in those contests.