Will Mike Fisher be back on the ice tonight? (PHOTO: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Gameday: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks, 4/1/13

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

at CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

April 1st, 2013
United Center
Chicago, Illinois
7:30 p.m. CDT
TV: SportSouth
Chicago leads season series 1-0

The Nashville Predators turn the final corner of the season tonight. Standing between them and their goal of making the playoffs are four games against the Chicago Blackhawks, the first of which is tonight in the Windy City.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(14-14-7, 5th in Central)

A 1-0 shutout loss to Colorado on Saturday was another blow to Nashville’s chances of making the playoffs. Getting a point in overtime helped to soothe the burn a bit, but the Preds need to do more if they want a berth in the second season. Doing more begins with a monumental task: taking down the Blackhawks, who shut the Preds out 3-0 back in early February.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks

Pekka was perfect in regulation against Colorado, the best he’s been in weeks. (PHOTO: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Pekka Rinne (13-10-6, 2.34 GAA, .910 SV%) returned to form against the Avalanche, stopping all 22 shots he faced in regulation before surrendering the game-winner to Tyson Barrie in overtime. It was the first game since his March 12th shutout of the Dallas Stars where Pekka didn’t give up at least two goals.

Neither Martin Erat (4G-17A) nor Shea Weber (7G-13A) could break onto the score sheet last game. Given that they’re two of the most important players in the Preds’ offensive game plan, they’ll need to do better than the three shots they combined for in that game if they want to have a chance to win tonight.

Others to watch

One of the big questions for tonight is whether Mike Fisher (9G-10A) will be ready to go. He’s traveling with the team but didn’t play Saturday, still feeling the effects of blocking a shot with his hand late in the Thursday evening game against Phoenix. Fisher is by far the hottest player on the team at the moment with points in each of his last eight games, the second-longest streak of his nine-year career.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

(26-5-3, 1st in Central)

A month heavy in games against their Central Division rivals kicks off tonight for the Nashville Predators in Chicago, where the Blackhawks began firing on all cylinders since the first game of the season. Only recently have they slowed down. After starting the season 21-0-3, they’re 5-5-0 over their last 10 games. They did shellac the Detroit Red Wings 7-1 last night, though.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Chicago Blackhawks

With these two around, the Blackhawks don’t miss Sharp and Hossa too much. (PHOTO: Tommy Giglio-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Both Patrick Sharp (5G-13A) and Marian Hossa (10G-13A) are out for tonight’s game. That’s bad news for the Blackhawks…ahhh, who are we kidding? This team still has Patrick Kane (18G-24A) and Jonathan Toews (17G-18A), which would be enough to carry plenty of squads in this league.

Corey Crawford (14-4-3, 1.97, .925) played in net last night against the Red Wings, so it’s likely the Preds will face Ray Emery (12-1-0, 2.09, .919) instead. Doesn’t really matter which one is playing, since both of them have been very sharp this season. That’s just how the Blackhawks roll.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Chicago Blackhawks

It’s been a good rookie year for Brandon Saad. (PHOTO: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Others to watch

Rookie Brandon Saad (6G-13A), who we pointed out to you back before the season started as a new face to watch in the Central Division, is fifth on the team in scoring.

Defenseman Nick Leddy (6G-9A) has scored four times in the last seven games, setting a new high mark for goals in his three-year NHL career.

Bottom line

The Nashville Predators need points if they hope to make the playoffs, and they have to play Chicago four times in their last 13 games. Both Sharp and Hossa are likely to come back before the end of the season, so it’s unlikely the Preds will see the Hawks any weaker than they are right now. Granted, that’s still not very weak, but they need to strike now.

Not taking too many penalties would be a great start. The Preds’ penalty kill only stops its opponents 76.6 percent of the time. Even if they can manage that, taking even one point from this game will probably still be a tough task for the Preds.

Tags: Chicago Blackhawks Nashville Predators