As injuries burden the Chicago Blackhawks’ bid for the top spot in the Western Conference, victories have started to mount.
They’ll go for their first three-game winning streak since December on Sunday night when they host the desperate Nashville Predators for the second time in 10 days.
The short-handed Blackhawks (41-15-15), without Patrick Kane for the first time since learning he’d landed on long-term injured reserve, won in fitting fashion Friday when Jonathan Toews’ short-handed goal capped a 3-2 home victory over Carolina.
Chicago was also missing forwards Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell, and defenseman Michal Rozsival.
Saad, fifth on the team with 19 goals, has missed the last three games after being injured March 16. Marian Hossa missed the five games prior to that, so the Blackhawks have had their top six forwards for part of one game over their last nine.
"That’s one of those things, we have to learn how to play without our best players," said Toews, who has nine goals in 10 March games. "We’ve done it without Hoss, and now Sadder and Kaner. It doesn’t matter. If someone’s nursing something, we have to find a way to fill that void."
They’ve done that with a four-game point streak and now find themselves four points behind St. Louis for first place after already passing Colorado to regain second in the Central Division.
The injuries could give them a chance to debut top prospect Teuvo Teravainen, who joined the club for Friday’s morning skate but was a healthy scratch against Carolina. The 19-year-old forward, Chicago’s first-round pick in the 2012 draft, led his team in Finland with 44 points in 49 games this season.
The team downplayed the timing of his arrival and said it wasn’t looking for him to replicate Kane’s production.
"He’s not coming in here to carry the team," general manager Stan Bowman told the team’s official website. "We certainly have high hopes for him in the future, but this is more just an experience for Teuvo to come in and see what the NHL is all about."
Chicago hasn’t had to do any shuffling in goal, where Corey Crawford has won three straight and five of six. He’s 5-1-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .944 save percentage since March 6, the loss coming 3-2 at home against Nashville on March 14.
Nashville defenseman Roman Josi had three assists in the win and has six in three games against Chicago this season, which have resulted in a pair of Predators victories.
The Predators (30-31-10) had lost three straight with just two combined goals since then before Friday’s 6-5 win at Calgary.
"We didn’t expect that coming in. We thought it was going to be a tight-checking, low-scoring game," said defenseman Shea Weber, who scored twice and also has seven points on a five-game streak against Chicago. "Obviously it’s huge to get that many goals. Hopefully, that can loosen guys up a bit."
With the scoring burden off their back, the Predators are now looking for solid play out of No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne. Since making 31 saves in the win over Chicago, he’s 0-2-0 with a 5.44 GAA and .814 save percentage in three starts. He was pulled in the second period against the Flames for the second time in four days.
Carter Hutton got the win, improving to 2-1-0 with a 1.54 GAA in his last four, which could be giving coach Barry Trotz a difficult choice to make as Nashville scrambles to overcome four teams and a substantial gap for the final playoff spot.
"I don’t know what the numbers are or where it sits as far as what we need but you’re never out of it until you’re out of it," center Matt Cullen told the team’s official website after his four-point game against Calgary.