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Apr 11, 2024 7:42 pm

With playoff spot locked up, Predators face woeful Blackhawks

ryan o'reilly

The Nashville Predators enter Friday night’s game at the Chicago Blackhawks coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to the visiting Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

Despite the setback, it’s fair to say Andrew Brunette’s players have found what they’re looking for.

Nashville (45-29-5, 95 points) clinched a Western Conference playoff spot with the point it picked up in the OT loss, something that seemed a real longshot after a 9-2 home loss to the Dallas Stars on Feb. 15.

The Predators were barely above .500 after that defeat (27-25-2) and were about to embark on a challenging five-game Western road trip with rumors circulating that star goaltender Juuse Saros could be had on the trade market. It also came out that a planned team trip to see U2 in concert at The Sphere in Las Vegas a few days later was scrapped by team management so the players could focus on “a business trip.”

Nashville responded by sweeping the five-game trip, including a 5-3 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Golden Knights, and has gone a sizzling 18-4-3 since the blowout loss to Dallas. The Predators are three points ahead of Vegas for the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

“It’s the first one off the checklist,” forward Ryan O’Reilly said of qualifying for the postseason. “Obviously, to make the playoffs is a huge accomplishment. I think we’re proud as a group. Guys worked hard for this. … To get in the playoffs, that’s the first step.”

“Being an underdog, you kind of get to where you’re proud of it,” Brunette said. “When you wake up in the morning, usually there’s no better motivation than proving people wrong. And maybe we wear that a little bit.”

The Predators finish the regular season with three games against non-playoff teams starting with Friday’s contest against the Blackhawks (23-50-5, 51 points), who have the second-worst record in the NHL.

“I don’t know if we’re ever satisfied,” Brunette said. “But I’m proud of where we’re at. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we could be better in a bunch of different areas, but we’re working on it and we’re growing.”

Chicago stumbles in with a two-game losing streak, most recently a 5-2 loss at St. Louis on Wednesday. The Blues jumped out to a 4-0 lead, scoring on their first four shots of the game over a span of 4:55.

“What needs to be said? I don’t think anything needs to be said,” Blackhawks forward Jason Dickinson said afterward. “It was an embarrassing first period. One shot, maybe three shot attempts, we’re down 4-0. What words need to be said?”

One bright spot for Chicago is that forward Landon Slaggert scored his first NHL goal. Philipp Kurashev also scored and Arvid Soderblom stopped 21 of 23 shots after replacing starter Petr Mrazek, who allowed three goals without making a save.

“We definitely weren’t ready to compete and they showed their desperation where they are in the standings,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said of the Blues, who are fighting Vegas for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. “And unfortunately, we didn’t give Petr much help, giving him a breakaway and a two-on-one to start the game.”

–Field Level Media

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