The Chicago Blackhawks have clinched the top spot in the Western Conference. Next up is the league's best overall record.
Chicago will try to extend its winning streak to seven – and point streak to 10 – on Friday night when the visiting Nashville Predators take the ice for the first time since their franchise record-tying seventh straight loss eliminated them from playoff contention.
After clinching the Central Division title with Friday's 3-2 shootout win over Detroit, and defeating St. Louis and Dallas, the Blackhawks locked up the top spot in the West on Wednesday when second-place Anaheim lost 3-2 in overtime to Columbus. The Blackhawks and Ducks could still end up tied with 70 points, but Chicago wins the tiebreaker by virtue of more regulation and overtime wins.
The Blackhawks are 8-0-1 since their last regulation defeat – 2-1 to Anaheim on March 29 – and are four points ahead of Pittsburgh for their first Presidents' Trophy since 1990-91. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews likes his team's chances, as it's riding its longest winning streak since a franchise-best 11-game run from Feb. 15-March 6 that capped off a league-record 24-game point streak to open the season.
"It does feel similar,'' said Toews, who netted his team-leading 21st goal in Monday's win over the Stars. "We're down a goal, we're up a goal, we find a way to come back and finish the job in the third period or even in overtime.
"We're hungry to play every single night. That's the No. 1 similarity. We're having fun.''
There's a far different feeling in the Predators dressing room after their postseason chances ended with Monday's 5-2 loss to Vancouver. Nashville had been to the postseason in seven of the last eight seasons, and was the only West team to advance to the semifinals in 2011 and 2012.
"We still have to play hard,'' captain Shea Weber said. "It's obviously tough. We have to find a way to battle here in the last games and try to get some wins.''
That could be asking a lot as the injury-plagued Predators, who are without Colin Wilson, Paul Gaustad and Gabriel Bourque for the rest of 2012-13, head to Chicago with one win in their last 11 games overall and one in 14 road contests.
The Blackhawks, 4-0-1 in their last five at the United Center, have won all four against Nashville this season, with three of those coming this month. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville still expects a tough divisional matchup as the Predators will try to prevent getting swept by the Blackhawks for the first time.
"They have some young kids (including 18-year-old center Filip Forsberg and 22-year-old defenseman Mattias Ekholm) that are going to be out there trying to try things, but we know one thing with Nashville – they play hard and it's not going to change their approach," he said.
The Blackhawks' need to make some changes on the power play. They've failed in 20 straight chances over the last nine games, which includes five opportunities in the three wins over Nashville.
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford will face the Predators for a third time this season with Ray Emery day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Crawford has won his last three starts in this series.
Chicago has five straight wins over Nashville, with Patrick Kane leading the club with four goals and six points during that stretch.
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