The race for the playoffs continues Saturday at Bridgestone Arena as the the deadlocked Blackhawks and Predators meet once again. The two teams are in the same position after their two-game meeting last week, tied with 39 points but with the Predators having the tie-breaker for the final playoff spot for the Central Division.
With a third of the season remaining, these next two games aren’t exactly must-wins, but the Blackhawks need to get back on track with consistent wins to create separation from the three teams within five points of their position in the standings if they hope to make the playoffs. It’d also be good if the Blackhawks could figure out how to beat the Predators mind-numbingly boring — yet effective — style since they’ll face it three more times in April.
The Predators are coming off their first loss in nearly two weeks, as they won six straight before Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. During their six-game win streak, the Predators dominated with a 54.08 percent expected goals share at 5-on-5, and had nine players score at least 0.5 points per game. Rookie forward Eeli Tolvanen led the team with nine points (3 G, 6 A) in those 6 games while defensemen Roman Josi produced five points (2 G, 3 A) in five games during that span. The Predators have also been enjoying elite goaltending during their rise in March as Juuse Saros went 5-1-0 with a .963 save percentage with a 1.27 goals above average in the month.
Leading scorer Filip Forsberg is still out, now listed as week-to-week after missing three games with an upper-body injury when before he was considered day-to-day. The Predators will also be missing top-six center Matt Duchene and top-four defenseman Ryan Ellis.
The Blackhawks are also coming off a loss, a heartbreaker to the Hurricanes Thursday in which the tie-breaking goal was scored with 29 seconds left in regulation. Despite not gaining a much-needed point to help in the race for the playoffs, the loss had it’s bright spots as the young players on the Blackhawks continued to shine. Forwards Dominik Kubalik, Brandon Hagel, and Dylan Strome all scored; defensemen Adam Boqvist had another solid outing; and goaltender Kevin Lankinen stopped 27 of 31 shots in the loss. If this season is primarily about development of the youth on the roster, then it’s hard to be too upset when those players keep performing well — even in losses. The resiliency that was such a key factor in the Blackhawks’ February success was also on full display in the Carolina game as they came back twice, showing it’s a bad idea to ever count them out.
The biggest issue plaguing the Blackhawks lately has been their inability to perform well at the start of games: the Blackhawks have been outshot 49-22 and outscored 4-0 in the first period of their last four games. They also haven’t been particularly good on the road as of late, having lost the last four away from the United Center. Conversely, we saw the Blackhawks close out a couple of games for the win, especially impressive as they came against some of the top divisional teams in the Panthers and Hurricanes. This shows that the inexperienced Blackhawks team can learn as the season progresses, so we just have to hope they’ll be able to correct the weak starts as well.
There’s no better time to begin than this weekend against the Predators.
Last note: the Blackhawks will be without fan-favorite Hagel as he was placed in COVID-19 Protocols Friday. Also, the recently re-acquired Vinnie Hinostroza will not be available yet, although he could be passing through Nashville during the game:
Vinnie Hinostroza is driving about 20 hours from Florida to Chicago. He and the Blackhawks are hoping he’ll be able to shorten his quarantine time by doing so. He might be able to join the team early in the week.— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) April 3, 2021
Blackhawks — Statistic — Predators
46.04% (31st) — 5-on-5 Corsi for — 51.46% (10st)
44.58% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 51.15 (12th)
2.82 (16th) — Goals per game — 2.45 (27th)
3.08 (22nd) — Goals against per game — 2.97 (17th)
46.4% (28th) — Faceoffs — 50.4% (15th)
26.7% (3rd) — Power play — 20.4% (16th)
74.3% (26th) — Penalty kill — 72.1% (31st)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Dach — Kane
Kubalik — Kampf — Kurashev
Janmark — Suter — Strome
Wallmark — Soderberg — Carpenter
Keith — Michell
Zadorov — Murphy
de Haan — Boqvist
Tolvanen — Johansen — Arvidsson
Jarnrok — Granlund — Kunin
Grimaldi — Haula — Cousins
Trenin — Sissons — Olivier
Josi — Fabbro
Ekholm — Carrier
Harpur — Benning
How to watch
When: 2 p.m. CT
Where: Bridgestone Arena
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV