Preds begin key home-and-home with Blackhawks

Three of Nashville's 10 remaining games are against the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks, making the task of the getting into the playoffs all the more difficult for the Predators.

The Preds do get an early chance to steal some points from the Central Division leaders as they open a home-and-home set with the Blackhawks on Saturday afternoon.

Nashville has points in six of its last eight games, with a 4-2-2 record over that span. The club is tied for 11th in the West and is four points back of the eighth seed in the conference.

The Preds snapped a three-game slide with Tuesday's victory over the Colorado Avalanche, but fell right back into the loss column on Thursday against the visiting Columbus. The Blue Jackets got a tie-breaking goal from new acquisition Marian Gaborik to hand the Predators a 3-1 defeat.

Kevin Klein posted the lone goal in the loss, while Pekka Rinne recorded 35 saves on the evening.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said his club just couldn't grab the momentum in the contest.

"The game's filled with peaks and valleys, momentum changes and all that," said Trotz, "but I thought it was a pretty hard-fought game. I thought both teams played extremely hard. We didn't manage the puck as well as we needed to."

Predators center Mike Fisher returned after missing three consecutive contests with a hand injury. He had logged five goals and four assists over an eight- game point streak before getting hurt, but did not find the stat sheet on Thursday.

Nashville's recent three-game slide included a shootout loss in Chicago on Monday, with the Blackhawks winning 3-2 thanks to defenseman Michal Rozsival's winner in the fifth round.

It was Chicago's third straight win over Nashville and it will host the Predators again on Sunday.

The Blackhawks were unable to come away with another shootout victory on Thursday, falling 4-3 to the St. Louis Blues. The teams combined for seven goals in the tiebreaker, with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa all scoring for Chicago.

However, St. Louis answered each time and then got the winner from Kevin Shattenkirk in the sixth round after new Blackhawk Michal Handzus had his chance stopped.

The Blues scored twice in the third period, but Viktor Stalberg forced overtime on his seventh goal of the campaign with 4:31 left in regulation. Corey Crawford ended with 19 saves.

"It's definitely not fun when you give up that many goals in the third period," said Crawford. "We found a way to battle back, though, and we definitely had some chances to win it. I just didn't feel that great in the shootout. It was a weird game. I think we controlled most of it.

"The positive thing is we were able to battle back and get a point out of it."

Toews had a goal and an assist while Brandon Saad also scored for the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks, who are 3-3-1 in their last seven and own a comfortable lead atop the Central Division. However, they are just three points up on the Anaheim Ducks for the first seed in the conference.

Hossa picked up the shootout goal after missing the previous six games with an upper body injury, while forward Patrick Sharp sat out his 12th in a row with a shoulder ailment as he inches closer to a return.