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Predators aim for another against Blackhawks

by Brian Hunter

PREDATORS (24-14-6) at BLACKHAWKS (24-18-4)


Last 10:
Nashville 7-3-0; Chicago 5-4-1

Season series: Fifth of six meetings between these Central Division rivals, who conclude a home-and-home. Nashville prevailed on home ice Saturday by a 3-2 score, capturing the game in a shootout for its third win in four tries this season against Chicago.

Jerred Smithson and Shea Weber rallied the Predators with third-period goals after a Tomas Kopecky scored on the power play in the first and Viktor Stalberg tallied in the second to get the Blackhawks going. Marcel Goc scored in the first round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker while Pekka Rinne denied the visitors on their first two attempts and Patrick Sharp missed wide on the final try of the night.

Big story: Nashville can clinch the season series against Chicago with a win on Sunday. Both teams would currently make the playoffs out of the Western Conference, but the Predators would like to continue making life difficult for the Blackhawks, who eliminated them in a six-game, first-round series last spring.

Team Scope:

Predators: When Nashville has been going good this season, the goaltending has led the way -- whether it's been Rinne in net or rookie Anders Lindback holding the fort while the veteran goalie battled injuries. Rinne finished with 31 saves on Saturday and was at his best during the first two periods. While he was beaten twice, he also kept the Predators close enough to strike back in the third.

"If it wasn't for Pekka there, it very easily could have been 6-0 going into the third," Smithson said.

Blackhawks: It was disappointing for Chicago not to come away with two points after seemingly dominating the game for 40 minutes, but after Stalberg scored 4:29 into the second period the Blackhawks couldn't put another puck past Rinne. Their goalie, Corey Crawford, made a valiant bid for a third consecutive shutout but was denied when Smithson beat him midway through the third.

"We had them right where we wanted them," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Obviously, they got a little life off their goal, and the building got loud. They made a bang-bang play, and the wrong guy shot it. They had a good third period. We should have nailed it. That was a good opportunity for us."

Who's hot:
Weber has 3 goals and 9 assists during an eight-game points streak for the Predators. Rinne has won six of his last seven starts, giving up a total of 10 goals over that span. ... Crawford is 3-0-1 in his last four starts for the Blackhawks, giving up a total of four goals.

Injury report: Nashville defenseman Shane O'Brien is finishing up a two-game suspension, while forwards Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Steve Sullivan (lower body) and Cal O'Reilly (broken right fibula) are on injured reserve. ... Chicago defenseman Nick Boynton missed Saturday's game with flu-like symptoms.

Stat pack: Rinne has been victorious in five shootouts this season and has a 16-7 career record in them. ... Jack Skille leads the Blackhawks with 4 goals and 1 assist against the Predators this season.

Puck drop: This marks the beginning of a six-game road trip for Nashville, which is a respectable 13-10-1 away from the Music City this season. The Predators begin play Sunday in second place in the Central, two points ahead of the Blackhawks and eight back of the division-leading Red Wings.

"It was a good way to start," coach Barry Trotz said. "The last home game of the month, do something that was worthwhile."

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