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Blackhawks-Predators Preview

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The Nashville Predators' best offensive performance of the season came against the Chicago Blackhawks two weeks ago and sparked an impressive run.

The Predators look to continue that strong play Saturday when they host a Blackhawks squad trying to avoid its longest skid of the season.

Nashville (33-12-3) broke open a tie game with six unanswered goals en route to an 8-3 victory over Chicago on Jan. 5. Predators leading-scorer Paul Kariya had a goal and three assists, giving him three goals and six assists in five meetings with the Blackhawks this season.

Scott Hartnell scored twice and 12 different Predators recorded a point win. That victory sparked a season-high six-game winning streak and a stretch of seven wins in eight games for Nashville, including a 4-0 victory over Columbus on Thursday.

Kariya and David Legwand each had a goal and an assist for the Predators, who have outscored opponents 34-18 in the last eight contests and are an impressive 15-0-0 when Kariya scores a goal.

The win temporarily moved Nashville into first place in the NHL for the first time in franchise history. Buffalo beat Vancouver 4-3 in a shootout Friday to move back atop the league with 70 points, but the Predators remain first in the Western Conference with 69.

Chris Mason made 33 saves versus the Blue Jackets for a career-high and franchise-record fifth shutout this season. He is 19-8-2 with a 2.28 goals-against average this season.

Mason was expected to resume his backup role when starter Tomas Vokoun returned after missing 21 games with a torn tendon and broken bone in his left thumb, but his recent play might have him contending for the top job.

Vokoun is 3-0 with a 2.64 GAA in four starts since returning, but allowed two goals on eight shots before being pulled in a 5-3 loss to Detroit Wednesday.

"I don't have any concerns about Tomas' game," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He's going to get that going, and there's a reason he's an elite goaltender in this league. He's mature. He expects that of himself. We expect that of him. When Mase is in, he expects to play well for us, and we expect that."

Whoever starts in goal Saturday will face a Blackhawks team struggling to score. Chicago (17-23-7) lost 3-0 to Minnesota on Friday for its season high-tying eighth straight loss.

"They had more will than we did," Chicago coach Denis Savard said. "We had maybe two forwards who decided to play a little physical. The rest of them played at the end of their sticks all night long."

Brian Boucher was in goal for Chicago, making 24 saves, snapping Nikolai Khabibulin's streak of 19 straight starts. Khabibulin has lost his last seven, however, posting a 3.92 GAA.

Peter Bondra (shoulder), Jassen Cullimore (shoulder) and Rene Bourque (ankle) were all sidelined Friday for the Blackhawks and aren't expected back until after the All-Star break.

Chicago has taken three of the five meetings between these teams this season, including one in overtime, but the Predators have won the last two.

Nashville is 17-3-3 at home this season and going for its sixth straight win there.

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