Predators-Blackhawks Preview

The Associated Press

Just when the Chicago Blackhawks appeared to be slipping, they bounced back with a lopsided road victory against a division rival.

After being shut out yet again, the Nashville Predators can't afford many more empty offensive performances with their playoff hopes in jeopardy.

The Blackhawks will try to avoid a fourth loss in their last five home games Monday against Nashville, which is looking to end a five-game road skid as these teams play the first of three meetings in eight days.

Chicago (26-5-3) dropped three of four overall before a 7-1 win at Detroit on Sunday. The Blackhawks pounced on the Red Wings immediately, getting three goals on their first three shots.

Nine players registered points for the Blackhawks.

"I liked the pace of our game," coach Joel Quenneville said. "That's something the last three or four games I thought we were off. ... We got continuity in the lines and consistency from start to finish. And the contribution offensively from everybody.

"But it certainly helps when you get a quick strike like that right off the bat."

The Predators (14-14-7) sit in a three-way tie for 10th with the Stars and Oilers in the West, two points back of the Blue Jackets for the conference's final playoff spot. They'll hope for another strong April - they're 8-2-1 in the season's final month over the past three years - as they seek a fourth straight playoff appearance.

After three straight home wins, Nashville's defense fell apart when it allowed six first-period goals in Thursday's 7-4 loss to Phoenix. The Predators' offense was the issue Saturday, when they were blanked for a league high-tying sixth time in a 1-0 overtime loss at Colorado.

Nashville's 25.5 shots per game rank last in the league, though Saturday's lack of production wasn't due to a shortage of opportunities. The Predators outshot the Avalanche 34-24, including a 27-12 edge over the first two periods.

They were also scoreless on six power-play opportunities and are 0 for 12 over the last three games. Nashville is 4-11-4 when it fails to score a goal with the man advantage.

"We had chances, and they were good chances," said defenseman Shea Weber, who with 20 points is one behind Martin Erat for the team lead. "We've got to score goals if we want to win."

The Blackhawks were again without Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on Sunday as both continue to recover from upper-body injuries. Hossa has missed five straight games while Sharp has been sidelined for 10 in a row, but Quenneville hasn't ruled either out against the Predators after both participated in their first full practice Saturday.

The continued emergence of rookie left winger Brandon Saad has helped alleviate those absences. Sixteen of Saad's 19 points have come over his last 15 games, including two goals and an assist against the Red Wings.

"We like the way he plays," Quenneville said. "I know that in the first part of the season, before his play started to be reflected in his production, I thought his play was rock solid. He looks like he belongs here."

Center Mike Fisher is questionable for Nashville after missing Saturday's game with an upper-body injury. Fisher tallied a point in eight straight games before being forced to sit out.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each scored as Chicago won the first meeting 3-0 in Nashville on Feb. 10.

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