Predators host Blackhawks clinging to last playoff spot

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By Nicolino DiBenedetto

Stats Writer

Chicago (43-24-11) at Nashville (39-32-8), 8:00 p.m. EDT

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) -- Heading into their final three

games of the regular season, the Nashville Predators are in the

thick of the Western Conference playoff race. They also have

their captain back and apparently at full strength.

Jason Arnott and the Predators look to improve their postseason

chances Tuesday night when they host the Chicago Blackhawks, who

recently qualified for the playoffs.

Nashville is eighth in the Western Conference and tied with St.

Louis at 89 points, although the Predators hold the tiebreaker

with one more victory. Both clubs are two points behind

seventh-place Anaheim, though the Preds and Blues have a game in

hand on the Ducks.

The Predators are playing their final home game before visiting

Detroit on Thursday and Minnesota - another playoff hopeful -

the following night to close out the regular season.

If Arnott produces like he did in his first game back after

missing 11 games with a concussion, Nashville should have a good

chance at making the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.

The center had two goals and an assist to lead the Predators to

a 5-4 shootout win over Columbus on Saturday. The performance

came a day after Arnott watched his teammates fall 3-1 at

Chicago.

"I was looking at the faces of the guys on the team and they

looked pretty tired," Arnott said. "They have been through a

lot.

"I was pretty determined to play. I talked it over with my wife

and she kind of hinted against it. But I wanted to get back and

help the team as much as I can."

Despite the lengthy absence, Arnott leads Nashville with 29

goals and is second on the team with 52 points.

He has a goal and two assists in his three games against the

Blackhawks (43-24-11) this season with the Predators winning

each of them. They lost the other two matchups of the season

without him.

Arnott has four goals and two assists in the last six meetings

with the Blackhawks at Sommet Center, helping the Preds win four

of them.

The Blackhawks clinched their first postseason berth since 2002

by beating Nashville 3-1 on Friday. They're fourth in the

conference and looking to extend their win streak to four after

Sunday's 1-0 victory at Columbus, which snapped a season-high

five-game road losing streak.

Kris Versteeg scored the lone goal, matching his output from the

previous 10 games.

The 22-year-old left wing ranks second among rookies with 51

points and third with 22 goals - four short-handed - making him

a contender for the Calder Trophy, which was won by the Hawks'

Patrick Kane last season. Versteeg, however, has one point in

six games against Nashville.

Chicago hopes Patrick Sharp can return soon after he missed

Sunday's game with a knee injury suffered in the first period

against the Preds. The right wing, listed as day-to-day, is

second on the club with 26 goals.

Sharp sat out 16 games due to a left knee injury from Feb.

17-March 22. He's been held without a point in the last three

matchups with Nashville.

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