The Nashville Predators played a flat game against the Dallas Stars, ending their six-game win streak. They now face a Chicago Blackhawks team, which they have swept all season, to battle for a playoff spot in the Central Division.
The Predators have the fourth spot in the standings, but barely. They are tied with Chicago with 39 points apiece but hold the tie-breaker since the Blackhawks haven’t beaten them this season.
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On both teams’ heels are the Columbus Blue Jackets with 36 points and a surging Stars team with 34 points. With four games in hand yet to be played, Dallas could be the spoiler for the final spot.
With the top three teams in the division pulling away from the rest of the field, the fourth playoff spot is the coveted prize for all of the bottom five teams.
With roughly 18 games left in the season, the Predators would have to play nearly perfect hockey to have a shot at claiming the third spot, currently held by the Carolina Hurricanes with 51 points.
With the way that the Predators are playing right now, they could run for the third spot, but they have to concentrate on beating the teams below them every time they face one another.
Now that the Predators have that playoff spot, the actual test of how good a team they really are begins today when they face Chicago.
The Blackhawks Keep Fighting
Chicago closed out the month of March with some significant wins, beating the Florida Panthers twice and the Hurricanes. However, they were swept by Nashville and lost an April 1 game to Carolina.
The Blackhawks have had some significant victories against the big three in the division, holding five total wins against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida. Nashville has yet to beat Carolina this season.
Patrick Kane is having a stellar season with 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists). Kane, an always dangerous player, must be contained by the Predators. He can get hot quickly and could cause issues if Nashville doesn’t keep him at bay.
Along with Kane come the equally dangerous Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik. DeBrincat sits in second place in team scoring with 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists). Kubalik rounds out the top three with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists).
With rookie goaltender Kevin Lankinen starting the last two games for the Blackhawks, we could see Malcolm Subban in goal though doubtful with two points and sole possession of the fourth playoff spot on the line.
Back To Work For The Nashville Predators
With their six-game winning streak now broken, the Predators have to get back to their winning ways if they are to beat a formidable opponent in the Blackhawks.
In their loss to the Stars, Nashville came out flat and never really could gain any momentum. Dallas applied lots of pressure on both ends of the ice, taking the Predators out of their game.
The Predators’ lone goal, scored by Colton Sissons, was a bright spot in the game. The “Herd” line, consisting of Sissons, Mathieu Olivier, and Yakov Trenin, is tenacious and could be considered the hardest working lineup that Nashville has.
With Filip Forsberg (and his glorious mustache) and Matt Duchene still out of the lineup, Head Coach John Hynes should have an easy decision when assembling his lines for today’s matchup, sticking with what worked during their streak.
With goaltender Juuse Saros having played the last two games against the Stars, Hynes may opt to start Pekka Rinne for this matchup. Rinne has won his last three starts and has been notoriously good against the Blackhawks.
The Predators will need to clean up some defensive miscues that crept into their last game. With the current level of play in the Central Division and the Blackhawks fighting for the playoff spot, Nashville can’t afford to give teams any golden opportunities to score.
With Chicago ranked third in power-play percentage, the Predators need to avoid the penalty box at all cost. The Predators still have the worst penalty-kill percentage in the league but have done a better job against the power-play during their recent win streak.
With the season winding down, the playoff race tightening, and the trade deadline looming, this is an important game for the Predators. The victor will take sole possession of the fourth-place spot.
A win could be a momentum builder as the fight continues for the playoffs. A loss could put them on a path to a much-talked-about rebuild.
The puck drops at 2:00 PM CDT and will be televised on Bally Sports South. Follow along with us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute game commentary.