CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks will go for their third win in a row when they host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.
Chicago is coming off back-to-back one-goal wins over the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes. The games have included some high-stress moments for captain Jonathan Toews and his teammates, but they know comfortable victories are hard to come by in the NHL.
“You’ve got to earn that,” Toews said. “You’ve got to work for that in this league. Nobody’s going to give you an easy game, especially when they come into this building.”
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That holds true for Central Division-rival Nashville (17-15-7), which is no stranger to the United Center. The Predators are 46-45-12 all-time in the series, including 20-26-6 on the road. They have earned at least one point in 10 of the last 14 games in Chicago.
At 25-12-5, the Blackhawks are clinging to a narrow lead atop the Central. Coach Joel Quenneville’s team is looking to establish its third-longest winning streak of the season after winning seven consecutive games in early November and five straight in mid-December.
Corey Crawford is expected to start in net for Chicago. The 32-year-old has performed well since returning last month from an emergency appendectomy. He is 14-8-3 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .925 save percentage this season. Against the Predators, he is 13-9-1 with a 2.52 GAA and a .913 save percentage in 23 career appearances.
Nashville likely will turn to Pekka Rinne in net after the 34-year-old received a night off Friday against the Florida Panthers. The 6-foot-5 goaltender is 14-10-6 with a 2.45 GAA and .918 save percentage this season. He is 17-15-4 with a 2.50 GAA and .918 save percentage in 37 career appearances against the Blackhawks.
Injuries have hindered the Predators in recent weeks. The team is 2-3-2 in its previous seven contests and has coped with upper-body injuries to key playmakers such as defenseman P.K. Subban, right winger James Neal and left winger Viktor Arvidsson.
Nashville is 7-10-2 away from home but is 4-1-0 in its past five road games.
“It’s nice to start getting some road wins,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette told The Tennessean. “We’ve got to get that record back up.”
Sunday’s game marks the fourth out of five regular-season meetings between the teams. The Blackhawks are 2-1-0 in the first three contests and have outscored the Predators, 10-8.
Right winger Patrick Kane leads Chicago with 41 points (12 goals, 29 assists) in 42 games while left winger Artemi Panarin has 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists).
For Nashville, center Ryan Johansen ranks first with 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 39 games. Left wingers Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg are next with 25 points each.
Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith will try to increase his point streak to four games against the Predators. Keith has tallied an assist in each of his past three games, increasing his season total to 27 assists. The only defenseman with more assists this season is Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman with 29.