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Preds, Hawks set for huge showdown

by Brian Hedger
PREDATORS (43-24-8) at BLACKHAWKS (42-25-8)


Last 10: Nashville 5-4-1; Chicago 8-1-1.

Season Series: The Predators have taken three of the first four meetings and tallied a point in Chicago's lone win, a 5-4 overtime victory on Halloween. The teams also met on Valentine's Day this season, but there wasn't much love in the building with Nashville eking out a 3-2 victory late in the third to extend the Hawks' losing skid at the time to nine games. That's where Chicago's dreadful stretch ended, but the Preds also gave the Hawks their first two losses in that losing streak.

Big Story: The second, third and fourth place teams in the Central Division are all separated by just a few points with the Blackhawks and Predators heading into this game after Nashville's 3-1 win against Winnipeg on Saturday night. Only seven games remain for both teams, so each game from here on is vital to their quest to get home ice for at least one round of the playoffs. Chicago is still without its captain and top center, Jonathan Toews (suspected concussion symptoms) and will also be without top defenseman Duncan Keith while he serves the first of a five-game suspension for elbowing Vancouver's Daniel Sedin in the face in a heated rivalry game this past Wednesday.

Team Scope:

Predators: In his first home game in four years, Alexander Radulov set up Matt Halischuk's goal to help Nashville earn a 3-1 win against the Jets at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night. Radulov, who played his first game on Thursday after returning from the KHL, has a goal and an assist in his first two games since returning to Nashville after four seasons in Russia.

"The play on Halischuk's goal, that was pretty sweet," Preds coach Barry Trotz said. "What can you say? He's got great vision, he's got great hands. Some of the things he did created a lot of chances and that's what Rad does, but he's still really good defensively, too. He manages the game way better than he did four years ago and that's the maturity of just time and understanding the game and I'm excited. I know the guys are excited as we go on here. Rads will continue to be more comfortable and do his thing so that was a real step forward for us in that he's getting in game shape."

Blackhawks: Chicago's depth is really being put to the test without Toews, Keith and possibly rookie center Marcus Kruger and veteran defenseman Steve Montador. Kruger and Montador are both dealing with upper body injuries that might be concussion related, but even if they don’t go the Hawks still have Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane up front with a number of defensemen, led by Brent Seabrook, playing solidly on the back end. They also have a red hot goalie in Corey Crawford, who’s stopped 102 of the last 107 shots he’s faced over five straight appearances and wins.
Who's Hot: Kane has seven goals in his last 12 games.

Injury Report: Colin Wilson (groin) and Roman Josi (upper body) are day-to-day for Nashville. … Toews (suspected concussion symptoms) is out, while Montador (suspected concussion symptoms) and Kruger (upper body, possible concussion) are questionable for the Hawks.

Stat Pack: The Blackhawks have struggled on the power play all season, but they’ve been downright dreadful against the Preds. Chicago has scored just once in 15 opportunities for a 6.6 percent success rate.

Puck Drop: Kane said he's licking his chops for a chance to have a big game against the Preds. Not long after Nashville beat the Hawks in their last meeting, Trotz gave reporters in Detroit an honest assessment of what he thought Chicago’s biggest issue was during its nine-game losing streak. He said the Hawks forwards were "cheating all over the ice" and not playing a 200-foot game – specifically Kane -- in essence neglecting defensive responsibilities while looking to score breakaway goals. Kane took offense to being singled out and told a few weeks ago that he and the Hawks were looking forward to playing the Preds.

"It can be motivation for sure," Kane said Saturday. "When it first comes out, you're kind of taken back by it a little bit because of the success we've had as a team the past couple of years. It was almost like (Trotz) was telling us how to play the game. Hopefully, we'll prove him wrong (Sunday) and show him his words aren't true."

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