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Preds, Hawks meet for first time since playoffs

by David Kalan
PREDATORS (1-0-0) at BLACKHAWKS (1-1-1)


Season Series: This is the first matchup of the season for Chicago and Nashville. Last season the Blackhawks took four of six from the Predators before eliminating them in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

Big Story: A budding rivalry in the Central Division is renewed for the 2010-11 season, as the Hawks and Preds hook up for the first time. With Chicago being responsible for Nashville's playoff ouster last spring, Barry Trotz's crew might be smelling a chance for vengeance at the start of the current campaign.

Team Scope:

Predators: The Blackhawks are the reigning Stanley Cup champs, but it's easy to forget that their first stop en route to the title went through Music City, where it almost stopped early. The Preds had a 2-1 lead in the first-round series in April and came within seconds of putting the Hawks on the brink with a chance to wrap up the series at home in Game 6. A late shorthanded goal in Game 5 by Chicago's Patrick Kane forced overtime, where Marian Hossa eventually gave the Blackhawks the win, but it's hard to believe the possibility of taking that matchup hasn't been on the mind of players like goaltender Pekka Rinne, who had been stellar for the first five games of the series or Martin Erat who had four goals against Chicago in the postseason.

No regular season victory could fully compensate for a missed chance at knocking off the eventual champs, but Nashville has the opportunity for a small measure of revenge Wednesday when they head to the United Center. The Preds look to be in the right shape to do it. After winning their final three preseason games, Nashville took its opener Saturday night in a 4-1 win over Anaheim. Still, if Nashville expects to move from the West's playoff discussion to the West's title discussion some work remains to be done. An early-season win over the Hawks would be a good place to start.

Blackhawks: Well, that's more like it. An overtime loss and a defeat to their oldest rival on the night they raised their first Stanley Cup banner in 49 years wasn't the Hawks' preference for starting a title defense, but any early anxiety was washed away in Chicago's comeback win over the Sabres Monday. Kane scored a goal in front of his hometown fans and Marian Hossa lit the lamp twice as the Hawks rallied for their first victory of the season in Buffalo.

The Sabres had put the Blackhawks down 2-0 less than three minutes, and with backup goaltender Corey Crawford giving starter Marty Turco a night off the Hawks were facing long odds early. But Kane's power-play goal in the first period got the offense in gear and it may have woken Chicago up just in time to put a crooked number in the wins column. Nashville won't make the task easy Wednesday, but with four of their next five at the United Center, the Blackhawks have a chance string together several wins early.
Who's Hot: Steve Sullivan got off to a strong start to his season Saturday, tallying a goal and an assist for Nashville. Hossa continues to light up the scoresheet for Chicago. His two goals on Monday have given him five points in three games this season.

Injury Report: Saturday's win over Anaheim could prove a pyrrhic victory of sorts for the Preds. Despite stopping 29 of the 30 shots he faced, Rinne was forced to leave after a collision in the third period that has him questionable for Wednesday with a lower-body injury. If the pain lingers it could be problematic for Nashville, which may also be without Martin Erat, who is questionable with back spasms. Chicago should have a full roster with the exception of Brian Campbell, who is out for several weeks with a sprained knee.

Stat Pack: If nothing else, Nashville proved Saturday that it puts the puck on net with regularity. The Predators had 49 shots on goal in their season opener, which could prove tricky for Chicago. The Hawks have allowed 34 shots per game in the early going after surrendering a league-low 25.1 last season. However, offense could be a double-edged sword for the Preds, who gave up 37 shots in addition to their own onslaught.

Puck Drop: The stakes and the tensions aren't nearly as high as they were when these two teams took the ice in April, but with one team looking to maintain its prevalence and another looking to attain its own, Wednesday's early-season showdown may lay the groundwork for where both of these teams are sitting come spring.
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