Blackhawks, Predators battle in Central Division encore

NHL Hockey

Coming off one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history, the Chicago Blackhawks look to continue the momentum when they host the Nashville Predators on Friday in another important Central Division matchup.

Only three points separate the Predators (25-21-2, 52 points) from the Blackhawks (22-20-5, 49 points) in the standings, with the Dallas Stars also involved in the three-team race for the fourth and final Central playoff spot.

Nashville missed a clear chance at an extra point on Wednesday and, just as crucially, a chance to keep two points away from the Blackhawks. The Predators held a 4-1 lead at the 10:03 mark of the third period, only to concede three Chicago goals in fewer than three minutes. Brandon Hagel then scored in overtime to give the Blackhawks the unlikely victory.

It was only the second time in 95 seasons of Blackhawks hockey that Chicago has won after trailing by at least three goals with 10 minutes remaining in regulation.

It was “definitely” Chicago’s biggest game of the year, according to Hagel … until Friday, that is.

“Down the stretch, there’s going to be some bigger games, but we’re trying to take every game one by one, and (Wednesday) is probably the biggest one so far,” Hagel said. “Now it turns to next game, probably the biggest game of the year, and on and on and on.”

The third-period outburst helped to erase a season of frustration for the Blackhawks against Nashville. Chicago was 0-4-2 in six previous meetings against the Predators and had been outscored 19-8.

One of those Chicago losses was a 5-2 result in Nashville on Monday. That game also marks the Predators’ only win (1-2-1) in their last four outings, following a 16-game stretch that saw the team go 13-3-0.

“This time of year, it’s about the end result, and you’ve got to move past it,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “You can’t get too high; you can’t get too low. The message doesn’t change; the mentality shouldn’t change. We’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go. When you lose a game like (Wednesday) … that’s why you stress that when you win or when you lose, you can’t get too caught up in the game.”

Juuse Saros has started 14 of Nashville’s last 16 games and will likely be back in net again on Friday.

Malcolm Subban stopped 36 of 40 Predators shots on Wednesday, giving Subban a .948 save percentage over his last three games. Rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen has struggled (3-5-0 record, 3.65 goals against average, .873 save percentage) in April, and it’s possible Chicago could turn to a more experienced NHL goalie in Subban down the stretch.

Both the Predators and Blackhawks are near the bottom of the league in penalty-killing statistics, but the two teams have recently each looked much sharper in stopping opposing power plays. Nashville is 27-for-30 on the penalty kill over its last 10 games, while the Blackhawks are also 27-for-30 in penalty kills over their last 14 games.

This isn’t good news for a Nashville power-play unit that is scoreless (0-for-21) in its last eight games.

Mikael Granlund and Luke Kunin each have three goals and four assists in seven games against the Blackhawks this season.

Chicago defenseman Calvin De Haan is questionable after leaving Wednesday’s game with a hip injury.

–Field Level Media

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