Blackhawks try to move closer to top record in clash with Preds

The Chicago Blackhawks will try to move closer to claiming their first Presidents' Trophy in over two decades when they host the free- falling Nashville Predators in Friday's clash at United Center.

With 70 points, the Blackhawks already have clinched the Central Division title as well as the top seed in the West. That leaves the NHL's best record as the only race left for Chicago, which is four points ahead of Pittsburgh in the battle for the Presidents' Trophy.

The Blackhawks, who last had the NHL's best record during the 1990-91 campaign, have six games left in the regular season compared to five for Pittsburgh. The Penguins play Friday night in Boston.

Chicago has won its last six games and will try to push that winning streak to seven against a Nashville team that is playing for pride. The Predators have lost seven straight in regulation and have been officially eliminated from playoff contention, marking the first time the club will miss the postseason since 2009.

Nashville shouldn't count on things getting any better tonight, considering the Predators are 0-3-1 against the Blackhawks this season and have lost five straight in the series. Chicago has taken five of the last seven meetings in the Windy City. Friday's contest is the fourth meeting between the clubs this month and the final encounter of the season.

Chicago's latest victory came Monday against the visiting Dallas Stars, who had won five in a row before getting dealt a 5-2 setback at the United Center. Andrew Shaw broke a tie with one of Chicago's three third-period goals and Marian Hossa sealed the club's sixth straight victory with an empty-net tally in the final minute. Hossa also added two assists.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had a goal and a helper, while Ray Emery improved to 16-1-0 this season with a 16-save effort. The win kicked off a three-game homestand for Chicago and improved the team's home record this season to 16-3-2.

"You kind of feed off of the energy of the guys around you, and every night it's different guys," Emery said of his strong play. "Lately it's been a consistent effort by most guys on the ice. It's really exciting being a part of that and gearing up for the playoffs."

Emery won't be available for the Blackhawks on Friday, as he's dealing with a lower body injury. Chicago recalled Carter Hutton from its AHL affiliate in Rockford to fill in Emery's roster spot, but Corey Crawford is expected to get the start tonight.

Meanwhile, Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp will miss a third straight game with an upper body injury.

Nashville's current 0-7 slide ties the longest losing streak in team history. The club also has lost seven straight on the road and is 5-12-4 as the visiting team this season. The Preds' last win away from the Music City came on March 12 in Dallas.

The Predators were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention after losing Monday's 5-2 decision against visiting Vancouver. Jason Garrison scored the game-winner late in the second period before the Canucks cruised to victory in the final 20 minutes.

Nick Spaling and Bobby Butler netted the Nashville goals, while Pekka Rinne surrendered all five goals on 24 shots for the Predators.

"We still have to play hard," Nashville captain Shea Weber said. "It's obviously tough. We have to find a way to battle here in the last games and try to get some wins."

Three of Nashville's final four games of the season are on the road. Next up for the Predators is Tuesday's home finale against Calgary.