The Chicago Blackhawks may be atop the Western Conference standings, but their recent lackluster play in the third period has been a concern.
They seek a more complete effort Saturday when they begin a home-and-home set with the struggling Nashville Predators in Music City.
Though Chicago has gone 2-0-1 in its last three, the Blackhawks (27-5-4), who hold a slim lead over Anaheim for the No. 1 seed in the West, are 3-3-1 in their last seven while allowing late goals that have cost them points.
Chicago took 2-1 lead into the third period Thursday, but St. Louis scored twice and eventually won 4-3 in a shootout. That type of result has become a trend lately for the Blackhawks, who have been outscored 11-5 in the third period during the past seven games.
"It's frustrating," said forward Bryan Bickell, who had an assist Thursday. "It's happened a lot lately, so I think we just need to keep it simple. Mistakes are happening between the blue lines and we need to fix them."
Corey Crawford hasn't been at his best lately either, going 2-2-1 with a 2.73 goals-against average over his last five starts. He allowed four goals on six shootout attempts Thursday.
``It's definitely not fun when you give up that many goals in the third period,' Crawford said. "Positive thing is we got a point out of it."
Crawford gave up a pair of soft third-period goals Monday, when Nashville tied the game with scores from David Legwand and Taylor Beck before Michal Rozsival scored the final goal in the shootout to give Chicago a 3-2 win.
"I don't think teams are outplaying us by any means," Crawford said. "We've played a lot of (close) games throughout the year. I just think everyone's frustrated with giving up another lead."
Either Crawford or Ray Emery, 12-1-0 with a 2.09 GAA, will be in net Saturday, with the other starting at home versus the Predators on Sunday. Dave Bolland will not play due to a lower-body injury sustained blocking a shot by Shea Weber in Monday's win, and Patrick Sharp will miss his 12th consecutive game due to a shoulder injury.
Nashville (15-15-8) has been struggling as well, going 1-2-2 over its last five while fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the West. The Predators allowed two third-period goals in a 3-1 loss to Columbus on Thursday.
They were playing their first game since trading winger Martin Erat, one of their leading scorers, to Washington prior to Wednesday's trade deadline.
"Everybody's got to step up," coach Barry Trotz said. "We're in the final stretch here and we've got to find ways to get points. "We've got to get some offense going."
That may be difficult without Gabriel Bourque, who has a team-high 11 goals but will miss his third straight game with an upper-body injury.
Nashville's remaining schedule is rather difficult, with eight of its final 10 games versus teams currently in playoff position. It visits Chicago on April 19 to close out this season series.
``We just have to worry about the next game and put our absolute best effort in,' Trotz said. "We've got to play a good team game and trust in each other that we can get it done.
"We have to win, plain and simple."
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane scored and Crawford made 17 saves in a 3-0 win Feb. 10 at Nashville, which hasn't said if Pekka Rinne or Chris Mason will start in net for this contest.
Rinne has posted a 3.25 GAA while losing his last three starts versus Chicago.
The Associated Press News Service
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