Nashville at Chicago
When: 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Where: United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Nashville center Luke Kunin's strong performance on home ice Monday helped the Predators keep doing what they have done all season -- beat the Chicago Blackhawks.
In a crucial game for both clubs on Wednesday night, the season series will shift to Chicago as the Central Division rivals play the first of their final two regular-season games against each other this season.
They will finish the series Friday night in a season-long battle that has been one-sided on the scoreboard.
While Nashville (25-21-1) doesn't know what the rest of the season holds, the Music City club has shown it knows how to handle Chicago (21-20-5) this season -- the Predators have won all six games against the Blackhawks, four in regulation.
Previously fierce opponents in the Western Conference's Central Division, Nashville and Chicago have brought their intensity to the NHL's newly formed Central that also features familiar foe Dallas, plus Eastern Conference competition Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, Columbus and Detroit.
In a tight three-team battle at the top, the Hurricanes, Panthers and Lightning have roared away from the field and have all but locked up postseason berths.
The Predators came alive in the season's second half and lead the Stars by three points, while the Blackhawks trail Nashville by four for the last playoff spot.
Nashville made its push -- buoyed by a 14-5-0 spell -- beginning March 15 with a 4-1 win at Tampa Bay.
However, the Predators' margin of error is small.
They have played 47 times -- the most among the Central teams fighting to gain fourth -- and Dallas has skated in just 44 and Chicago 46.
In Monday's 5-2 Nashville win over Chicago, Kunin and Calle Jarnkrok -- who played in his 500th NHL game -- tallied a goal and an assist, Mikael Granlund had a pair of helpers, and Nashville bolstered its stretch run by snapping a two-game losing streak on the road against the Hurricanes.
"We're fighting for a playoff spot, and obviously Chicago is as well," Kunin said. "We've had that mindset for the last 20 or so games. It's a playoff mindset, and we've got to come in and do the right things every day."
Goaltending was key on Monday, with Nashville's Juuse Saros allowing two goals or fewer for the seventh time in his past eight games, but Chicago rookie Kevin Lankinen yielded five in 22 shots and was pulled early in the third after a rough night.
Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said his team put itself in bad position getting behind in Nashville.
"For a lot of the game, we were very good," Colliton said. "Ultimately, the mistakes that we made were tough to recover from. It's just tough to come back when you put yourself in a hole."
With Brandon Hagel out (COVID-19 protocol), newcomer Adam Gaudette made his Chicago debut on the fourth line with David Kampf and Ryan Carpenter. He fired two shots in traffic to provide the lone assist on Kampf's first goal this season.
"I thought he got better as the game went on," Colliton said. "Definitely the last two periods he had some good shifts, had some chances, made some plays, and that line got a goal for us."
Defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk left the game in the first period with a hip injury, forcing the Blackhawks to play 50-plus minutes with five blueliners.
--Field Level Media
Stats and Records