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Predators, Hawks set to renew rivalry

by David Kalan
PREDATORS (5-4-1) at BLACKHAWKS (6-2-2)


Last 10: Nashville 5-4-1, Chicago 6-2-2.

Season Series: This is the first meeting of the season between the teams. The division rivals split six games in 2010-11.

Big Story: Both the Predators and Blackhawks are getting into a groove as they meet for the first time this season, and with Chicago holding a three-point edge on Nashville for first place in the Central, two points Monday night could prove pivotal come April.

Team Scope:

Predators: Nashville had a rough patch in the middle of October, losing four of five games. Since then, however, the Preds seem to have found their footing with eight goals over their last two games and back-to-back wins to show for it. The last win, a 3-0 shutout of the Ducks on Saturday night, gave goaltender Pekka Rinne the 100th win of his career.

That impressive run has pulled the Predators to within three points of the division-leading Blackhawks, and it's good for them that they're starting to play to their potential. As they start a five-game road swing Monday, the Preds will need to be at their best. Once Nashville leaves Chicago it will also make stops in Phoenix, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. The most obvious similarity between all five of the teams the Preds will face on the trip? All five of them made the playoffs this past spring.

Blackhawks: The United Center has proven Sweet Home Chicago indeed for the Hawks. Chicago is 4-0-2 so far at the UC, tacking another win onto the ledger with a 5-2 win against Columbus Saturday, largely due to Viktor Stalberg's two early goals in the third period. That game also proved a valuable piece of information in showing just how trustworthy backup netminder Ray Emery is. With starter Corey Crawford struggling of late, Saturday was a needed night off. After giving up nine goals in his last three games, Crawford is likely to be starting Monday with a clear head.

Monday's home game against Nashville could loom large for a team that makes its bacon at home -- the Hawks will play 10 of their next 13 games away from the Windy City. Those road games could be difficult for the Blackhawks as many of their dependable offensive players have started to slow down from their impressive starts. Patrick Kane, for example, has just two points in the last five games. Those trends make Monday's game against Nashville all the more crucial.

Who's Hot: Michael Frolik has been the most dependable Blackhawk for offense lately with three points in the last four games. ... Rinne's impressive play has been particularly noteworthy lately. The towering Finn is 3-1-0 in his last four starts with two shutouts and a 1.26 goals-against average in that span.

Injury Report: Sergei Kostitsyn is questionable for Nashville with a left leg injury, but the more pressing concern is Mike Fisher, who is likely to miss the game with an upper-body injury. Chicago has no major injuries, but the Blackhawks will have to do without gritty forward Daniel Carcillo, who is serving the second game of a two-game suspension for a hit he put on Joni Pitkanen against Carolina last week.

Stat Pack: Rinne's shutout win Saturday night, his 22nd with the team, set a new Predators franchise record. Rinne's talents are no surprise, but what makes it even more impressive is that he broke the mark in 196 fewer games than it took the previous record holder, Tomas Vokoun, to set it.

Puck Drop: Over the past few seasons, Nashville and Chicago have begun to develop a healthy rivalry, with a wild playoff series in 2010 the highlight. As the two teams open up their 2011-12 season series, they once again look to be among the West's contenders, and these two points just might decide who is celebrating the division title when the season ends.

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