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Predators take series lead with 4-1 win over Hawks

by John Manasso
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Through the first three games of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series, the Nashville Predators have hamstrung the high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks.

Playing before an ear-splitting Bridgestone Arena crowd of 16,075 on Tuesday night, Nashville earned its second 4-1 victory over the Blackhawks, the NHL's third-highest scoring team during the regular season, in moving to a 2-1 series lead.

David Legwand had a goal and two assists and Martin Erat scored the first playoff penalty-shot goal in Nashville history. Game 4 is back here on Thursday.

Seventh-seeded Nashville has allowed Chicago, which finished one point out of first in the West during the regular season, only four goals in the series. Much of that has to do with rookie goalie Pekka Rinne, who made 34 saves on Tuesday and now boasts a .957 save percentage in the series.

"Yeah, yeah, I do," Rinne said when asked if he felt like his team could continue to hold Chicago to low-scoring games. "That's a lot of credit to our forwards and [defensemen]. They do a great job in front of me.

"Yeah, [the Blackhawks] have good players. They're going to get some chances, especially on the power play, but I think we're doing a great job and paying a lot of attention to details. We notice who we're playing against and it's been a big thing for us."

The Predators asserted themselves from the get-go as Shea Weber delivered a huge, message-sending hit to ‘Hawks leading-scorer Patrick Kane along the boards early in the first period. Kane did not register a shot until midway through the third period, by which time Nashville had built a two-goal lead.

"I think it got the crowd involved, got us kind of fired up and with a guy like that who already has scored in back-to-back games against us it was good to shut him down a little bit," Nashville forward Joel Ward said. "That's what we got to do to win this series and win the next game."

Nashville had many standouts on the night. Along with Rinne and Weber, perhaps one of the best players on the ice was Legwand, who converted a 2-on-1 pass from Steve Sullivan at the four-minute mark of the second for a 2-1 lead. Sullivan had corralled a puck along the right wing boards before speeding up ice to start the play.

Less than six minutes after Legwand scored, Weber, owner of possibly the hardest slap shot in the league, unleashed one from just inside the blue line that deflected off Marian Hossa's stick and still had enough power to make its way through Niemi, who was strong in making 31 saves.

"Well, my eyes kind of lit up there," Weber said. "It was a neutral [zone] situation but J.P. [Dumont]'s a good player who can find the good holes."

Erat scored on a penalty shot in the third period to ice it.

Predators coach Barry Trotz credited a stop that Rinne made on early on against Kris Versteeg on a partial breakaway for "getting us settled." Versteeg went to his backhand and it appeared that Rinne may have forced his shot to hit the side of the net.

After a flurry of activity, Ward got Nashville on the board first with seven minutes left in the first. Skating on a line with Marcel Goc and Sullivan in place of the injured Patric Hornqvist, the Preds' top scorer, Ward backhanded a rebound past Chicago goalie Antti Niemi. Niemi had trouble controlling a rebound of a shot by Steve Sullivan from inside the right faceoff circle.

Tomas Kopecky evened it on a Chicago power play four-and-a-half minutes later. Kopecky, who had earlier taken an elbowing penalty -- one of three straight the ‘Hawks took -- won a faceoff, skated to the net, received a pass from the point and put a backhander around Rinne.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said he was not disappointed in how his team handled Nashville's physical play -- Francis Bouillon also rocked Colin Fraser with a big hit -- but how it lost control of the game in the second period.

"It wasn't bad but I really thought we lost all momentum in that second period," Quenneville said. "Then they took the game over. The building was alive and had some personality and we put ourselves in the position we're in but we needed to get better off the first period's level and we weren't there."

The pressure now squarely shifts to a young Chicago team that has found itself stifled by the increasingly confident Predators. Nashville needs only to win at home in Game 4 on Thursday and, possibly, at home again in Game 6 on Monday to close out its first playoff series victory.

"Certainly tonight we can't be pleased with the way we played," Quenneville said. "They were the harder-working team, more resilient, more desperate. We know that each and every game is going to escalate and today, for whatever reasons, we didn't achieve what we wanted to."

Shift of the night:
Francis Bouillon, the NHL's shortest defenseman at 5-foot-8, got the crowd into the game and helped to set a physical tone with two huge hits on one shift late in the first period. He knocked 6-fioot-1 Colin Fraser several feet off his feet with one of them, leading to a scrum near the Blackhawks bench that ended with Chicago's Tomas Kopecky taking an elbowing penalty in retaliation.

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