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Blackhawks vs Predators game preview: Central Division Supremacy

The two top teams in the Central Division square off in the Music City.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks begins a four-game road trip in Nashville as they take on the Central Division leading Predators on Saturday night.

The Preds and Blackhawks have split two meetings this season, with each team picking up a win at home. Chicago won 2-1 on Oct. 18 and Nashville a 3-2 winner on Oct. 23 on the back of a James Neal hat trick.

Nashville has won five of the last seven games between the teams and three of four played at the Bridgestone Arena. The Preds hold the top spot in the division with 36 points, one more than Chicago and two ahead of the St. Louis. The Winnipeg Jets have quietly made their way up the standings, and are only four points out of first place.

The Preds have a 11-1-1 home record and have won seven straight in the Music City. Chicago, meanwhile, has won five of six on the road from some of the Western Conference's best competition - Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Chicago enters the matchup with a season-high five-game win streak after a 4-3 comeback victory over the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Friday. The Blackhawks have won eight of their last nine. The Habs grabbed the lead with a two-goal second period, but Jonathan Toews' power-play goal tied the game and Brandon Saad netted the game-winner with 27 seconds left in regulation.

Toews also contributed an assist, and Ben Smith and Michal Rozsival scored first-period goals. Patrick Kane, Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg each picked up an assist. Versteeg's helper extends his point streak to four games, he is tied with Kane and Marian Hossa for the team lead with 14.

Goaltender Antti Raanta made 38 saves as he filled in for injured Corey Crawford. Backup Scott Darling could get the call against the Preds, with Raanta playing last night against Montreal. The rookie appeared in 26 games for Nashville's AHL affiliate Milwaukee last season, and is 2-1-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in three NHL career starts.

Opponent Breakdown: Nashville Predators

Nashville has won five of its past six and extended their home winning streak with a 4-3 victory over St. Louis. Mike Riberio scored his third goal in as many games and Colin Wilson netted the eventual game-winner in the third period.

Since missing two games in November due to injury, Wilson has tallied seven points (4G, 3A) in nine games. Wilson's game-winner on Thursday was his second in three games, having put the Preds past the Columbus last Saturday.

Riberio added two assists and Filip Forsberg and Eric Nystrom also found the back of the net, while Pekka Rinne made 29 saves. A victory against the Hawks would match the franchise's longest home winning streak that was set from Jan. 6-Feb. 8 in 2007.

Forsberg, a 20-year-old rookie, leads the Preds with 25 points (11G, 14A) in 25 games. The 2012 first-round pick was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for November after scoring nine goals and 15 points, including a six-game goal streak from Nov. 2-13. Much of Forsberg's success can be attributed to his partnership with top line center Mike RIberio, who at 34 years old has bounced back after struggling in Arizona last season. Riberio ranks second behind Forsberg with 22 points and leads the team in shooting percentage, converting on 25.8 percent of his shots.

Defenseman Ryan Ellis has nine points (3G, 6A) in 12 career games against the Hawks, while James Neal has 15 points (10G, 5A) in 16 games.

Rinne leads the league in wins (17), second in SV (.931) and third in GAA (1.88); he went 10-1-0 in November. He looks to get the start and is 14-10-3 with a 2.51 GAA and .918 SV in his career against the Hawks.

Injury Report

Chicago: Corey Crawford (foot), Patrick Sharp (lower body) and Trevor van Riemsdyk (knee).

Nashville: Viktor Stalberg (knee)

Game Information

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: Bridgestone Arena

TV: CSN Chicago

Radio: WGN-720

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