Tonight on NBCSN: Predators and Blackhawks meet in possible playoff preview

Funny how things change over time. The last time the Predators and Blackhawks met back in mid-February, it turned out to be the low point of the season for Chicago according to CSNChicago.com’s Tracey Myers. When they get together tonight at United Center (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), both teams are in a more familiar situation jockeying for playoff position.

Chicago comes into tonight’s game two points back of Nashville for fifth place in the West while the Predators are one point behind Detroit for fourth. To say that Chicago and Nashville could wind up dancing with each other in the first round in the playoffs is true. Both teams have seven games left, but the Blackhawks will have to do things tonight without Jonathan Toews (concussion) and Duncan Keith (suspension).

While Keith is sitting at home keeping himself in shape during his time off, Toews is getting closer to returning. After participating in his first practice in two weeks yesterday, things are looking up for the Blackhawks’ captain. Patrick Kane is making sure Chicago keeps winning by scoring seven goals over the last 12 games. The Blackhawks are hoping to make it six straight wins tonight.

Nashville, meanwhile, is in a slight funk. Although they dispatched of Winnipeg last night, the Predators have lost four of their last six games. The losses have prevented Nashville from capitalizing on Detroit’s struggles of late and they’ve been unable to leap frog them in the standings.

Oddly enough, the source of their recent struggles has been all-world goalie Pekka Rinne. Rinne’s woes against Edmonton and Pittsburgh may have been bothersome to fans, but not so much for coach Barry Trotz. Rinne rebounded nicely against the Jets stopping all but one shot in a 3-1 win. Meanwhile, new-old guy Alexander Radulov is showing that his belated arrival was worth waiting on as he’s got a goal and an assist in two games.

If tonight’s game is to be a true playoff preview, expect to see a no holds barred throwdown as both teams would love to get to fourth and earn home ice in the first round.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.