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Predators aim to stay perfect vs. Blackhawks

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The Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators will face each other three times in a row starting Monday night in Nashville, then continuing Wednesday and Friday with meetings in Chicago.

The three-game series, combined with the high stakes of two division rivals and playoff hopefuls separated by only two points in the standings, creates the feeling of a playoff series within the regular season.

“It’s great,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. “We were just saying usually you don’t get something like this in the regular season because of the way the schedule is. Obviously, with the team we’re chasing, it’s exciting that we have a mini three-game playoff series here and hopefully can gain some ground.”

The Blackhawks have 47 points through 45 games, good for fifth place in the Central Division. The fourth-place Predators are right in front of them with 49 points through 46 games.

The next three games could go a long way toward determining each team’s postseason chances.

“Everyone knows how big these games are,” Predators forward Matt Duchene said.

So far this season, Nashville has had the upper hand in the head-to-head series. The Predators are a perfect 5-0 against the Blackhawks, with three victories in regulation time, one in overtime and one in a shootout.

Each of the contests has been low scoring. Nashville has not scored more than three goals in any of those victories, and Chicago has combined for only six goals in five games.

Kane said he and his teammates had to break through against the Predators’ stingy defense.

“They play a good team game,” he said. “They don’t really give up much space through the neutral zone. I think the biggest thing, they have that 1-3-1 format where they have the defenseman waiting back for the puck and three guys standing up at the blue line. It’s tough to get through sometimes.

“For us, we really want to play with speed. If we have to get it in deep and have to forecheck and do it that way, that’s what it is. But we’ve got to find a way to beat these guys.”

Chicago has won three of its past four games, including a 4-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings in its most recent game Saturday. The Predators are coming off back-to-back losses against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Blackhawks goaltender Kevin Lankinen is 16-12-4 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. Backup Malcolm Subban is 5-5-1 with a 2.86 GAA and .911 save percentage.

Predators goaltender Juuse Saros is 15-9-0 with a 2.23 GAA and .928 save percentage on the season. Veteran Pekka Rinne is 9-12-1 with a 2.97 GAA and .902 save percentage.

Predators defenseman Roman Josi is looking for a better result following two tough losses against Carolina. Josi is the team’s top-scoring blue-liner with 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 39 games.

“We’ve just got to get back to playing to our identity for 60 minutes, and it’s going to be really important against Chicago,” he said.

–Field Level Media

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