Published March 31, 2012
| Sports Network
Still without their captain and one of their top defenseman, the Chicago Blackhawks would love to wrap up a playoff spot tonight.
The Blackhawks look to secure their fourth straight trip to the postseason as they battle the playoff-bound Nashville Predators.
Chicago hasn't missed the postseason since 2008 and picked up its first Stanley Cup championship since 1961 two years ago. The Blackhawks, though, did not make it out of the first round last season after being eliminated by Vancouver and enter this contest sixth overall in the Western Conference with 95 points.
The 'Hawks need just one point and a regulation loss by Phoenix tonight against visiting Anaheim to lock up their postseason berth and trail the fifth-place Red Wings by two points. They are also only three back of the Predators for the fourth seed and all three clubs have four games left.
Chicago halted a two-game winless streak on Thursday, rebounding for a 4-3 shootout win over St. Louis after blowing a two-goal lead in the third period. Andrew Brunette and Patrick Sharp had goals for the Blackhawks in the third frame and Dave Bolland had the lone goal in the shootout.
The Blackhawks could have clinched a playoff berth if Phoenix lost to San Jose in regulation Thursday, but the Coyotes won 2-0. Sharp knows it would be better for his club to do so sooner rather than later after the toll clinching took on 'Hawks a season ago.
"It was taxing on a lot of players down the stretch trying to get in and when we did get in we had to ramp it back up," said Sharp. "Hopefully we can get in."
Corey Crawford made 17 saves for Chicago, which has won six of its past eight despite playing without forward Jonathan Toews for an 18th straight game due to a concussion. Toews did skate on Thursday and said he's close to being cleared for contact, while defenseman Duncan Keith will sit out the fourth contest of a five-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Vancouver's Daniel Sedin on March 21.
Chicago will play three of its final four games on the road.
Nashville, meanwhile, took over the fourth spot and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs by beating the Red Wings 4-1 in Detroit last night. Alexander Radulov had a goal and an assist, while Pekka Rinne made 31 saves in his NHL-leading 42nd win of the season.
Gabriel Bourque and Francis Bouillon put Nashville ahead 2-0 with goals in the second period, helping the Preds win for the third time in four games and give head coach Barry Trotz his 500th career win.
Trotz, the only head coach in Nashville team history, became just the fifth coach to reach the 500-win mark with one team.
"It's good for our franchise," said Trotz. "It sorta says that we've arrived a little bit. That's one milestone and hopefully we've got a lot more."
After playing eight of their previous 10 on the road, the Preds open up a three-game homestand this evening and are 24-9-5 as the host.
After dropping an overtime decision to the Blackhawks to open this season series back on Oct. 31, the Predators have outscored their Central Division rivals by a 17-6 in winning the past four meetings. Nashville has won two straight and eight of its past 12 at home versus Chicago.