Fifth place in the Western Conference and second place in the Central Division will will be at stake tonight and on Sunday when the Nashville Predators (24-14-6) and the Chicago Blackhawks (24-18-3) play in Nashville and then Chicago on back to back nights.
The Predators have won two of three games against the current Stanley Cup Champion Blackawks this year after losing to them in six games in the opening round of last year's playoff series.
In the Predators second game of the year, the team went into the United Center with Anders Lindback making his first start and stole a 3-2 win from the Hawks when Joel Ward scored the tiebreaker on the power play with 27 seconds remaining in the game.
On November 13, the Predators beat the Hawks in Nashville 4-3 when Cal O'Reilly scored the only goal in the shootout. Pekka Rinne was the winning goalie and perfect in the shootout.
The Preds lost to the Hawks 4-1 on December 22 in Chicago. The Hawks were led with two goals by Jack Skille, including one on the power play that proved to be the game winner. Sergei Kostitsyn had the only goal for Nashville. Anders Lindback gave up four goals on 35 Chicago shots and took the loss.
The Predators will have a couple of new faces in the lineup tonight. Marty Erat will return after missing nine games after he was injured on December 23. Alexander Sulzer will start in place of Shane O'Brien who was suspended by the NHL for two games for a high sticking violation in Florida on Thursday.
The goalie match tonight will be Pekka Rinne (13-11-4, 2.15, .927) for the Preds and Cory Crawford (15-8-1, 2,14, .920) for Chicago. I would not be surprised to see Anders Lindback (10-3-2, 2.36, .922) and Marty Turco (9-19-2, 3.02, .899) for the rematch in Chicago tomorrow.
Special teams will be big in tonight's contest but there may be few opportunities as Nashville (9.3) is second in the league in fewest penalties and Chicago (9.9) is fourth. The Hawks (24.4%) are first in the league on the power play while the Preds (are second (86.0%) on the penalty kill.
When it goes the other way, the Preds (14.5%) are 26th on the man advantage while the Hawks (77.6%) are 27th on the kill. It will be interesting to see how the strengths and weaknesses match up in this weekend's pair of games.
The Preds have the second lowest goals allowed average in the league at 2.30 and are even better at home (2.00) Individually, Shea Weber brings a seven game point streak (2g, 9a) into the games.
The game tonight at the Bridgestone arena begins at 7 p.m. and is a sellout. Tomorrow's game at the United Center in Chicago begins at 6 p.m. and is the first game of six over the next ten days on the road.
Other previews come from Ryan Porth, Amanda DiPaolo, Chris Burton, Hockey Night in Nashville, and Predators.com.
From the Windy City comes previews from Second City Hockey, The Sun Times, The Daily Herald, and the Chicago Tribune.
In Pred Nation...
Josh Cooper looks at the strains of the upcoming six game road swing.
Section 303 has a new edition of the 303:30 that you can listen to here.
Dirk Hoag has his weekend links with several to last night's college game at The Bridge.
Rads update from @dchesnokov: #KHL starting lineup (voted in by fans) Team Jagr: Karri Ramo, Martin Skoula, Ilya Nikulin, Roman Cervenka & Alexander Radulov.
Mark Willoughby prefers the finger over a smile at this week's My View.
The Hockey News has their mid-season report on the Central Division and has raised their expectations for the Predators.
The Preds are ready to stamp out bullies and not just on the ice. The Tennessean has the story.
Around the NHL...
The Wings lost Tomas Holmstrom to a broken hand and Jimmy Howard to a bruised knee in their 3-2 shoot0out loss in Columbus last night.
Here's a recap from Matt Reitz's PuckChat sessions this week.
Odds and Ends...
Breaking news for fans of The Office. Michael is leaving before the end of the season, not in the finale as had been speculated.
Jim Diamond found this nugget about a "Phonenapper" in Cool Springs that held a phone hostage and then got in a fight with an officer at Chilies.
One of my favorite web sites has had a complete make-over with plenty of pictures and graphics. Check out Space.com.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass