The Nashville Predators (34-24-7) face off against the Chicago Blackhawks (22-38-6) in a Central Division showdown Thursday night. The Predators are on a three-game winning streak as they fight for their playoff lives. They are threatening the Winnipeg Jets for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, as the red-hot Preds are 7-2-1 in their last 10. On the other hand, the Blackhawks are as cold as ice, as they’re 3-6-1 in their last 10 and sit 30th overall in the NHL standings.
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Both teams struggle with scoring goals, as the Blackhawks are 31st in goal scoring, while the Predators are 28th. The power play situation is the same, as they are 28th and 25th, respectively. A low-scoring game may be in the works for fans at Bridgestone Arena as the Preds aim to win against their easiest remaining opponent on their schedule.
Predators Within Striking Distance of Jets
The Predators sit four points back of the Jets with three games in hand. The only team to sell at the NHL trade deadline, including selling forward Nino Niedereitter to the Jets, has the potential to surpass them in the standings as early as Saturday night.
Following the Predators and Blackhawks clash, the Jets visit Bridgestone Arena following a date with the Boston Bruins. The contrast between the two teams’ upcoming games is gigantic. If the matches go to the favorites, Saturday night will be the most critical game of either team’s season. Although, even if the Predators win their next two and find themselves in a playoff position come Sunday morning, they still have the second-hardest remaining schedule among all NHL teams; the Ottawa Senators have the toughest overall.
The Predators’ recent play, most notably their three-game winning streak, should give fans confidence that they will beat the Blackhawks. However, the NHL is the most unpredictable league in the world, and the Blackhawks shocked fans Tuesday night by convincingly defeating the Bruins.
Will the Blackhawks Ruin Their Bedard Odds?
It was only recently that the Blackhawks sat last in the NHL. This position would grant them the best odds to draft Connor Bedard in the upcoming 2023 NHL Entry Draft, or at worst, lose the lottery, dropping to third; still not an awful position. Now, they are 30th, and while they are playing poorly, the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, and other bottom-feeding teams are playing equally poorly or even worse.
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Most Blackhawks fans hope for consecutive losses to secure the best possible odds for Bedard, but players don’t play to lose. The Blackhawks defeated the inevitable Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins Tuesday night, as their tank for Bedard is beginning to go belly-up.
Albeit most fans’ wishes, aside from those who view tanking as an abomination, the players on the Blackhawks are playing for pride as the season winds down. Players are looking to prove they belong in the NHL. The Blackhawks’ roster allows players to show themselves as everyday players in the NHL, meaning that despite lacking skill, they will play the Predators hard for 60 minutes.
The Predators can sweep the season series against the Blackhawks, winning 4-2 and 3-1 in their previous two matchups. Tommy Novak scored a point in the Preds’ two games, accumulating one goal and one assist.
Defencemen Connor Murphy has two points for the Blackhawks in their matchups against the Predators; he scored a goal and an assist in their 4-2 loss on Dec. 21, 2022.
Players To Watch
Predators forward Tommy Novak is proving he belongs in the top six. He has 28 points in 34 games this season, with four goals in his last three games.
“He’s been very consistent with his game,” said head coach John Hynes. “He’s playing with a ton of speed. I think he’s got a lot of swagger with the puck right now. He’s feeling it on that side of it.”
The consistency has allowed the Predators to absorb offensive losses due to trades and injuries. Novak is only one of many young players from Milwaukee, the Preds AHL affiliate, who have emerged as quality players who are better than advertised. Luke Evangelista and Philip Tomasino are just two of many other young forwards given an opportunity on this roster, and the youth movement in Nashville is worthy of getting behind.
In his first full season with the Blackhawks, Taylor Raddysh is showing he belongs. The right-winger has six points in his last four games and scored his first career hat trick against the Bruins Tuesday night. The forward scored his 20th goal of the season as part of his hat trick, marking the first time he reached this milestone in his career.
In the 15 games before his hot streak, Raddysh only scored two assists. He has stepped up, providing consistent offence since the departure of Patrick Kane and Max Domi. Raddysh can be a future building block for the Blackhawks or turn into another trade chip in the offseason or next year’s trade deadline.
Where To Watch?
The puck drop is at 7 p.m. CT. Find the game on Hulu/ESPN+.