With their playoff fate already decided, the Chicago Blackhawks can use their regular-season finale against the Nashville Predators as a tune-up.
They’ll have a very different – and far more formidable – look once the postseason gets underway.
The defending Stanley Cup champions will try to avoid heading into the playoffs with consecutive losses Saturday night when they visit the Predators.
Third place in the Central Division isn’t where the Blackhawks (46-20-15) were expected to finish, but an 11-10-1 record over the last 22 games allowed Colorado and St. Louis to overtake them.
They will open the playoffs on the road against either the Avalanche or Blues.
A drop-off was expected with star forward Patrick Kane sidelined since March 19 with a knee injury and captain Jonathan Toews missing every game this month due to an upper-body injury. But both are expected back for the start of the playoffs and Kane, who resumed skating with his teammates Wednesday, said he will return at 100 percent despite a brace on his left knee.
The biggest issue for Chicago now is its poor road play, a trend that continued with Friday’s 4-0 loss at Washington. That ended a four-game win streak overall for the Blackhawks, who are 2-7-1 in their last 10 away from home while scoring only 15 goals.
Corey Crawford’s rare off night didn’t help as he allowed four goals on 20 shots before he was pulled following the second period. Crawford had gone 23 straight games giving up three goals or fewer.
"It’s just a game we can definitely look past and move on to the next one," Crawford said. "I don’t know, let’s just forget about it. I don’t know what else to say."
He could be rested Saturday in favor of Antti Raanta, who is 1-3-1 with a 3.63 goals-against average in his last six starts.
Nashville (36-32-12) will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season, but that hasn’t been reflected in its play of late. The Predators are 4-0-1 in their last five games and have only one regulation loss in the past 10 (7-1-2).
"This group, as I have been saying all year, has a lot of character," coach Barry Trotz said. "There’s only one way to play, and that’s play the right way. This group plays the right way."
Pekka Rinne became the franchise’s all-time wins leader Thursday, stopping 29 shots in a 2-0 victory over Phoenix. Rinne moved past Tomas Vokoun with his 162nd win and added to his existing team record with his 32nd shutout.
"We did a really good job of blocking shots and getting the clears when we needed to," said Rinne, who is 2-0-1 with a .955 save percentage this month. "When they got the shots, I was able to see them. It was kind of back to the normal way of game playing."
Rinne was outstanding in two wins over Chicago in March, allowing two goals on 62 shots with one shutout. That success comes after he went 0-4-2 with a 3.30 GAA in his previous six meetings.
Captain Shea Weber needs one point in the final two games to set a career high with 54. Forward Patric Hornqvist’s next point will be his 51st, matching the personal best he set in 2009-10.
The Predators are 3-1-0 against the Blackhawks this season, splitting two home games.