As the NHL regular season heads into its final days, Chicago and Nashville are among the clubs jockeying for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. That makes the finale of their season series all the more important
The Predators will go for their fifth straight victory over the Blackhawks, who are looking to clinch a playoff berth, Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.
Detroit, Chicago and Nashville currently are separated by three points in the fourth-through-sixth spots in the Western Conference, with the fourth seed earning home ice in the first round. The Predators (45-25-8) leapfrogged the Red Wings for that spot Friday, earning their 97th and 98 points after defeating Detroit (97 points) 4-1.
With 95 points, the Blackhawks (43-26-9) are on the verge of clinching their fourth straight playoff berth. They can clinch by earning at least one point Saturday, coupled with a Phoenix loss in regulation to Anaheim.
However, the Predators have won four straight over Chicago including a 6-1 victory Sunday, and have taken nine of 10 possible points in the teams’ five previous meetings this season.
Shortly after Friday’s win over the Red Wings, the Predators were talking about the Blackhawks.
“It doesn’t mean anything right now,” Shea Weber said of beating Detroit. “It gives us some confidence that we can come in here and win. If we don’t win against Chicago (Saturday), we’ll be back in the same situation with Detroit right on us.”
Nashville, which has won three of four overall, responded well Friday after a shutout loss to St. Louis three nights earlier. Gabriel Bourque and Francis Bouillon scored in the second period, Pekka Rinne made 31 saves and the Predators killed three penalties.
Nashville has given up just four power-play goals in the last 47 chances. The penalty kill has been key against Chicago as well, with the Predators killing 18 of the Blackhawks’ 19 power-play opportunities including all four last Sunday.
Chicago (43-26-9) has one of the worst power-play units in the NHL, converting just 15.2 percent of its chances.
However, the Blackhawks are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games, defeating the conference-leading Blues 4-3 in a shootout Thursday.
Dave Bolland scored the only goal in Thursday’s tiebreaker after St. Louis rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period.
“It seems like we’re getting ourselves ready for playoff hockey,” Chicago left wing Viktor Stalberg said. “It was a good test for us (Thursday) playing a good team like St. Louis.”
The Blackhawks have four games remaining, including a season-ending visit to Detroit next week. In between, Chicago will play a home-and-home series with non-contending Minnesota.
The Blackhawks will again be without captain Jonathan Toews and defenseman Duncan Keith on Saturday. Keith will be serving the fourth of a five-game suspension for elbowing Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin in the head last week.
Toews, who has missed the last 18 games with a concussion, skated Thursday and said he’s close to being cleared for contact. He hopes to play in one of Chicago’s final two regular season games.