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Red Morning Light: Blackhawks at Predators

Morning matinee games should be against the rules.

NHL: APR 20 Round 1 Game 4 - Blackhawks at Predators Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks are in Nashville Saturday hoping to play spoiler to a Predators team that is holding tight to their wild card spot for the NHL Playoffs. This will be the series finale between these two once bitter rivals.

The Predators have been pretty mediocre in their last five games with a 2-1-2 record, being outscored 13-7 in that span. As a result of this slight skid, they’ve seen their lead over the two teams below them in the race for the playoffs — the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars — shrink almost completely. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Predators had comfortable leads on both other teams but not anymore: a four-point lead on the Knights is now just two and a five point lead on the Stars is completely gone. And Nashville’s last game was a 4-0 shutout against the Edmonton Oilers, so the Predators have to right the ship as quickly as possible with only eight games left.

The good news for them is that the Blackhawks are in town, a team the Predators have dominated in recent years. The Predators have won two of the three matchups so far this season — including a 6-1 romp on Jan. 1 — and defeated the Blackhawks in 11 out of their last 15 games since the 2019-20 season. Suffice it to say, the Predators have had the Blackhawks’ number over the last few seasons, and they have to hope that trend continues on Saturday.

Another dose of good news for the Predators is that Roman Josi is having a Norris quality season with 87 points (19 G, 68 A) in 72 games. His defensive numbers are somewhat impacted by the Predators barely average team-defense. But if the best defense is a good offense, then Josi is your man this season. Other than Josi on defense, the Predators have Mattias Ekholm and Alex Carrier as the best pair when it comes to expected even-strength defense goals above replacement (2.8), and the rest of the defense are useful though not spectacular.

The Predators are also still a top-heavy team: Filip Forsberg (38 goals and 72 points in 61 games) and Matt Duchene (38 goals and 75 points in 70 games) are playing exceptionally well, while Ryan Johansen (23 goals and 57 points in 71 games), Mikael Granlund (44 assists and 53 points in 72 games), and Tanner Jeannot (24 goals and 41 points in 73 games) have respectable outputs. After that, the talent level drops for the forwards as players like Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino have dipped in terms of performance lately.

Lucky for the Predators, they have Juuse Saros in net to cover up the middling defense with a .921 save-percentage that is sixth best in the league among goalies who have played at least 30 games. It’s expected that he’ll get a majority of the starts down the stretch for the Predators, including Saturday against the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks managed to win their last game against the San Jose Sharks, preventing them from matching the season-opening losing streak of nine games. It was still a pretty sloppy game in which they failed to hold a lead and it ultimately required a shootout to get the victory, but at least it was something positive — especially for Pat Foley’s last game.

The San Jose game saw the reunion of the Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and Patrick Kane line which picked up right where it left off. DeBrincat had three assists as well as the shootout winner, Strome had a goal and an assist, and Kane picked up a goal and two assists. Seth Jones also got in on the action with two assists, rounding out the four most offensive players for the Blackhawks all season. When those four are on their game, the Blackhawks at least have a chance of winning even if the rest of the lineup is lacking and often seemingly in spite of the other coaching choices.

Speaking of coaching, after practice Friday interim head coach Derek King announced some “interesting” lineup chances: Philipp Kurashev and Calvin de Haan would be scratched while Dominik Kubalik, Tyler Johnson, and Erik Gustafsson would return to the lineup after having been healthy scratched two to three of the past games. These are interesting moves because Kurashev has been playing well since being bumped up to the top six, while de Haan is coming off a great game as well but Gustafsson hasn’t had a good game in probably a month.

Typically, it’s odd to make swaps after a win, even an unconvincing one.

Kirby Dach will also be out due to a shoulder sprain sustained Thursday against San Jose. Lastly, Kevin Lankinen is expected to start in net against Nashville, and he’ll have newly recalled Cale Morris as his backup as Collin Delia is out due to a death in his family.

Blackhawks — Statistic — Predators

46.06% (30th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 49.72% (17th)

44.93% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 50.28% (16th)

2.62 (27th) — Goals per game — 3.18 (14th)

3.54 (26th) — Goals against per game — 2.86 (11th)

49.1% (19th) — Faceoffs — 51.2% (11th)

20.8% (17th) — Power play — 23.8% (8th)

75.4% (24th) — Penalty kill — 79.8% (15th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Kubalik — Toews — Reichel

Raddysh — T. Johnson — Lafferty

Katchouk — R. Johnson — Entwistle

Gustafsson — S. Jones

McCabe — Regula

Stillman — Vlasic

Lankinen

Morris

Predators

Forsberg — Johansen — Tomasino

Tolvanen — Granlund — Duchene

Trenin — Sissons — Jeannot

Cousins — Glass — Kunin

Josi — Fabbro

Ekholm — Carrier

Borowiecki — Lauzon

Saros

Rittich

How to watch

When: 11:30 a.m. CT

Where: Bridgestone, Nashville

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+