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Blackhawks, Predators chasing 3-2 series lead

by David Kalan

(Best-of-seven series tied, 2-2)

Big Story --
The Blackhawks' win in Nashville on Thursday night has given them back home ice in the series, which could prove very influential in Saturday's pivotal Game 5.

Team Scope:

Predators -- In what has become an incredibly tight series, Nashville has acquitted itself very well against the highly-regarded Hawks. But lost in the shuffle is that the Predators have been struggling offensively. Nashville hasn't lacked for chances -- the Preds have outshot the Hawks in this series -- but Chicago netminder Antti Niemi has managed to keep them out of the net in both of its wins, and has only surrendered six goals in four starts.

Part of the Preds' offensive power outage might be linked to the absence of Patric Hornqvist, who has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury after leading Nashville in scoring with 30 goals in the regular season. Nashville has managed to stay in each game, however, because Pekka Rinne has managed to match Niemi nearly shot for shot. Rinne has a 1.79 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in the series, and with Nashville's offense struggling, he'll need to continue his stellar play if the Preds hope to come home for Game 6 with a chance to finish the series.

Blackhawks --
Chicago got exciting news Friday when defenseman Duncan Keith learned he was nominated for the Norris Trophy as the League's best blueliner. While the honor is certainly warranted, with all apologies to Keith, Niemi has been the defensive star of this series for the Hawks. After allowing a League-low 25.1 shots against per game this season, Chicago's defense has surrendered 29.25 per game in this series.

The return of Brian Campbell in Game 4 certainly boosted the Hawks on the back end, but Niemi's response to the workload is nonetheless impressive. The Finnish Fortress has two clean sheets in the first four games to go with his 1.51 GAA and .965 save percentage. The wall between the pipes has been necessary for the Hawks, who only have seven goals in this series, but if the offense can get back on track -- and Jonathan Toews' two-point night Thursday is a sign that it might be -- Chicago will stand a good chance at putting the Preds on the ropes for Game 6 Monday.

Who's Hot -- Chicago's Patrick Sharp, who scored two goals in Game 4, has four points this series for the Hawks ... David Legwand has been making his presence known for Nashville, leading the Predators with five points in the series.

Injury Report --
Chicago is still without defenseman Kim Johnsson, who has been out with concussion-like symptoms for more than a month, while Jordin Tootoo (facial lacerations), Denis Grebeshkov (lower-body injury) and Hornqvist (upper-body injury) are all questionable for Nashville.

Stat Pack --
Nashville's power play has never been its strong point -- the Preds converted only 16.4 percent of their chances this season -- but in the playoffs it has been as anemic as it can be. The Predators have yet to score with the extra man in 17 opportunities.

Puck Drop --
It's no secret that defense has been the key to this series so far, and while Nashville, which ranked 18th in the League in goals this year, has made reliance on defense a necessity, the Hawks, who averaged 3.2 goals per game in the regular season, are used to producing far more offense than they have. If Chicago finds its scoring touch and Niemi continues to be a rock in net, the series could quickly start to tip the Windy City's way.

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