BLACKHAWKS (4-1-1) at PREDATORS (2-3-0)
: Chicago and Nashville split last year's season series, with the Hawks taking the final meeting, 4-2, on April 7, 2009.
: After two lopsided losses, the Predators will look to stem the tide during a brief stay at home in their first matchup with the division-rival Blackhawks. While Nashville has fallen on hard times early this season, the Hawks are on a roll, having won three straight.
: The Hawks were on a high after Monday's historic comeback win at the United Center. Wednesday's meeting with Edmonton just kept the tide rolling, as the Hawks pulled out a gritty 4-3 win over the Oilers. Chicago's meeting with Edmonton was the last part of a three-game homestand, and the team seems awfully comfortable in front of the Hawks faithful, going perfect in their first extended stay at the UC. Thursday's trip to Nashville will only be a brief sojourn, as Chicago will be back at home for four more games starting Saturday, but it will be important for the Hawks not to lose their rhythm on the quick trip to Music City, where they lost two of three last season.
: After starting the season with two straight victories, Nashville hasn't won since, dropping three straight by a combined score of 13-2. As the Predators search for a way to right the ship, an opponent coming off three straight wins is probably not the best elixir. Still, Nashville will need this one-night return to the Sommet Center as a jumping off point before it sets out on a five-game road trip Saturday night. Two people searching for answers might be Pekka Rinne
and Dan Ellis. The last two games have been particular hard on the Nashville netminders, who relieved one another on Monday and Wednesday while giving up a total of 12 goals. Fortunately for Ellis, he has nowhere to go but up after Wednesday, a night that saw him give up three scores on three shots before getting the hook.
: Patrick Sharp
scored two goals Wednesday against Edmonton, extending his point streak to six games, while Antti Niemi won his second start of the year for Chicago, as he makes a case for the starting job.
: Ben Eager, Marian Hossa
and Adam Burish are all still on injured reserve for Chicago, while Nashville will be missing Jordin Tootoo
and J.P. Dumont.
: Last year, Rinne managed to steal the starting job away from Dan Ellis, posting 29 wins in just 52 starts to go with a 2.38 goals-against average. The Finn might have to be wary of a reversal of fortune this season. In 132 minutes between the pipes this year, Rinne has taken two losses and built up a disconcerting 3.64 GAA.
: With both Chicago and Nashville traveling on the second half of back-to-back games, the Hawks and Preds might look sluggish in the early going, but these are two teams going in opposite directions, and fast. With a long homestand in front of them, a win for the Blackhawks would set them up for smooth sailing through the end of October, but this game won't be nearly as important to them as it will be to the Predators. Nashville is struggling greatly and in dire need of some good news. If the Preds' desperation wins out on Thursday, it just might end a slide that is in danger of ruining their season before it begins.
-- David Kalan, NHL.com