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Versteeg rejoins Blackhawks vs. Predators

by Mike Battaglino

BLACKHAWKS (13-2-4) at PREDATORS (8-9-2)


Last 10: Chicago 7-1-2; Nashville 3-6-1

Season series: This is the first of five games. The Chicago Blackhawks won all five against the Nashville Predators last season, with four played over 19 days in April. One ended in a shootout and another in overtime.

Big story: Forward Kris Versteeg will play his first game for the Blackhawks since June 9, 2010, when Chicago won the Stanley Cup with a 4-3 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Final. Versteeg had a goal and two assists in Game 5, a 7-4 win.

After stops with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Flyers, Versteeg was with the Florida Panthers before they traded him Thursday.

"It's still a lot to process," Versteeg said Friday in Chicago. "I've had so much good times here, you almost put that all in the rearview mirror, because you never thought you'd ever come back. Now I'm back here, and it's now about getting back to playing hockey and trying to put my best foot forward every night to try to help the team in whatever way I really can."

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Versteeg will skate on Chicago's third line, where he practiced Friday with wing Bryan Bickell and center Andrew Shaw.

"It's a perfect fit for us, and for [Kris] as well," coach Joel Quenneville told the Blackhawks website. "That line can be effective both sides of the puck, very dangerous offensively. And I think [Versteeg] does a lot of good things with the puck, and I just think that away from the puck, just adds that to his game, we'll be very pleased."

Versteeg eventually could be an important part of the penalty kill, which this season is without Michael Frolik, who was traded to the Winnipeg Jets during the offseason.

"I think I can fit in," Versteeg said. "I try to fit in to whatever lineup I'm in with whatever role the coach tries to put me in. But this is a strong lineup, and I'm going to have to compete hard every night for a roster spot, and just try to help make this team better in whatever way I can."

Nikolai Khabibulin will start in goal, with Corey Crawford (7-0-1 in his past eight) likely to play against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.

Predators: Nashville ended a 16-day, seven-game road trip that had them play in four time zones with a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

"It'll be good to get home," forward Mike Fisher said, according to The Associated Press. "It's always tough to come off a long roadie, but obviously we're all looking forward to getting home. That's the longest trip I've ever had."

After getting a point in the first three games (2-0-1), the Predators lost the last four by a combined score of 17-2. Goalies Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec each was pulled once. Nashville is 3-5-1 since losing starter Pekka Rinne indefinitely with an infection in his hip.

"We're not giving them a chance," Predators defenseman Shea Weber told The Tennessean. "They're making huge saves for us and giving us a chance to win every night, and we're not helping them out at all. It's not fair to them, and we've got to be a lot better."

The Predators play two games after this on the road before finally getting six of seven at home.

Who's hot: Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane has eight points in a five-game streak, and 14 in the past 11. Forward Patrick Sharp has eight points in a four-game streak, and 12 over eight. Defenseman Duncan Keith has a point in seven of the past eight games, and in nine of 11. … Predators forward Gabriel Bourque has two points in four games after two in his first 12.

Injury report: Blackhawks forward Michal Handzus (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Thursday before the trade for Versteeg was announced. … Predators forward Eric Nystrom (head) did not return after falling to the ice during a second-period fight against Pittsburgh. Fisher (lower body) played for the first time since Nov. 2.

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