Predators-Blackhawks Preview

The Associated Press

The Chicago Blackhawks' three-month struggle for consistency is costing them in the Western Conference standings.

Having dropped to fifth in the West with a pair of teams surging past them and toward the top spot, they begin a two-game home stretch against the Nashville Predators on Friday night.

Chicago (38-14-14) lost 3-2 to Colorado on Wednesday, allowing the Avalanche to leapfrog the Blackhawks and take over into second place in the Central Division.

"Maybe we can learn our lesson now that games aren't going to get easier this time of the year," captain Jonathan Toews told the team's official website. "It's time to play hard, it's time to play playoff-style hockey if we want to win games. That's another two points we let slip, six in a row against this team."

The Blackhawks got goals from Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, but weren't able to recover from a pair of two-goal deficits despite a 28-19 shot advantage in the final two periods.

"We need to find that urgency and determination we had later in the game and bring that right from the start," Toews said.

Chicago has been unable to put together a long winning streak, failing Wednesday to win three in a row for the first time since Dec. 8-11.

They've split two games against last-place Nashville, which they'll face three times in the final 30 days of the season.

Chicago has won three straight at home in this series and seven of eight overall meetings, the most recent a 3-1 victory in Nashville on Dec. 17. Kane scored in a fourth consecutive matchup and has seven goals and three assists in the past eight against the Predators.

He has a goal in two straight games to pull within one of matching his career high of 30, set in 2009-10.

Defenseman Duncan Keith has seven points in a four-game point streak in the series.

The Predators (28-28-10) have won two in a row since dropping four straight, defeating Buffalo 4-1 on Tuesday. After closing out this three-game trip, they return home to face St. Louis on Saturday before heading back out on the road for four more contests.

Nashville has gone 5-1-3 in its last nine away from home.

"It's a good start to the road trip so far," captain Shea Weber told the team's official website. "We've got a challenge in Chicago coming up. They're a very good team and we've got to make sure we keep pushing forward and trying to get on a roll here."

Weber has six points during a four-game streak in the series. He joined Craig Smith and Nick Spaling with a goal and an assist Tuesday.

Carter Hutton made 26 saves in the tail end of Nashville's back-to-back games, likely paving the way for Pekka Rinne to play Friday.

The Predators' No. 1 goaltender is 1-3-0 with a 2.25 goals-against average since returning from an E. coli infection in his hip. He's lost his last six starts against the Blackhawks with a 3.30 GAA.

Chicago figures to have Corey Crawford back in goal after backup Antti Raanta started against Colorado. Crawford had started the previous 10 games and is 3-1-0 with a 1.51 GAA in his past four outings, but he's allowed nine goals in his last two contests against Nashville.