- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) - Nikolai Khabibulin made 25 saves, and Jonathan Toews’ scored his team-leading 32nd goal as the Chicago Blackhawks clinched their first playoff berth in seven years by beating the Nashville Predators 3-1 on Friday night.

Samuel Pahlsson scored in the first period and Martin Havlat added an empty-net goal for the Blackhawks, who qualified for the postseason for only the second time in 11 seasons.

Chicago moved one point ahead of Calgary and into fourth place in the Western Conference playoff race. Before their drought, the Blackhawks made the playoffs for 28 straight seasons from 1969-70 through 1996-97.

Rookie Cal O’Reilly scored for the Predators, whose second straight loss kept them in ninth place in the West. Nashville is one point behind St. Louis and the playoff cutoff with four games remaining.

Nashville is 5-2-3 in its last 10. Pekka Rinne blocked 29 shots in his 10th straight start.

Chicago forward Patrick Sharp left the game in the first period and didn’t return. Sharp missed 16 games due to a left knee injury from Feb. 17 until March 22.

Pahlsson opened the scoring 5:22 in with a backhander from the right circle that slid past Rinne’s right shoulder. The goal was set up following a turnover by Steve Sullivan at the Predators blue line.

Rinne stopped Chicago’s Ben Eager on a breakaway at 9:49.

Less than a minute later, O’Reilly tied it at 1 on a rebound. After Khabibulin made a pad save on Joel Ward’s shot from the right circle, O’Reilly knocked in the loose puck.

In his first seven NHL games, O’Reilly has three goals and two assists. He was called up from Milwaukee of the AHL on Feb. 28 for two games, then brought back on March 26.

Toews scored on a rising one-timed shot from the right edge of the crease with 7:34 left in the second to give Chicago a 2-1 lead. Havlat fed a pass from behind the net to Toews, who scored into the upper left corner.

Rinne made a point-blank glove save on Patrick Kane with 4:23 remaining in the second.

Khabibulin and Rinne were sharp in the cautiously played third period. Havlat scored into an empty net with 1:13 left.

Notes:@ Nashville C Jason Arnott, out with a concussion since March 10, has resumed skating. He might play next week. Also out of the Predators lineup were RW Martin Erat (fractured leg), RW Wade Belak (lower body), C David Legwand (factured cheekbone), LW Antti Pihlstrom (upper body) and RW Ryan Jones. Pihlstrom and Jones are day-to-day. Legwand could return in two weeks. Chicago C Dave Bolland returned after missing one game because of an injured foot. RW Troy Brouwer missed his third game with a knee injury.

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