Blackhawks-Predators Preview

The Associated Press

The Nashville Predators have one of the league's stingiest defenses during their current three-week hot streak, anchored by the stellar play of goaltender Pekka Rinne.

They're likely to get a tough challenge against one of the NHL's most potent offenses.

Nashville hosts the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night in a matchup of two of the NHL's hottest teams.

The Predators (27-16-4) have allowed only 20 goals during a 9-2-0 run since Dec. 28 and are coming off a 3-0 win over Columbus on Thursday.

Rinne made 38 saves and earned his fourth shutout, improving to 15-2-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average over his last 18 starts. He has a 1.34 GAA in winning his last six outings, allowing two goals or fewer in each.

"He's been really good,'' coach Barry Trotz said. "He's been tracking the puck really well. He's an elite goaltender.''

The offense hasn't been bad either, scoring at least three goals in seven games during their run.

Martin Erat had a goal and an assist while Mike Fisher and Shea Weber added goals Thursday. Fisher's came on the power play, where the Predators rank second in the NHL by converting 21.4 percent of their chances.

"Our power play has been getting us some big goals,'' Fisher said. "That gave us a big enough lead that Pekka could shut the door.''

Rinne, though, hasn't had much recent success against Chicago. He's 2-4-1 with a 3.34 GAA in his last seven starts - including the postseason - versus the Blackhawks, who have gone 4-0-2 in the last six meetings with the Predators.

Chicago (29-13-6) has won three straight games and is 5-0-2 in its last seven after beating Florida 3-1 on Friday.

Jonathan Toews scored his 27th goal - second in the league to Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos' 31 - and has scored in four straight games, while Patrick Kane scored and assisted on Toews' goal.

Duncan Keith also scored for the Blackhawks, who rank second in the league behind Boston with 155 goals.

Kane scored for the first time in eight games.

"A lot of guys have been producing around here, so it was nice to come up for the team tonight and score a big one,'' Kane said. "Any time you can score after a slump and a lot of focus on it, it's a good feeling.''

Coach Joel Quenneville never lost confidence in Kane, who has only two goals in his last 14.

"It was a matter of time, because in the last couple of games he was trending where he had great looks, more looks and more quality looks,'' Quenneville said. "I expect him to get more confident and keep it going.''

Kane scored twice and added an assist in Chicago's 5-4 overtime win over Nashville in the most recent matchup Oct. 31. Toews assisted on Viktor Stalberg's OT goal.

Rinne made 30 saves, though Corey Crawford earned the win after finishing with 24.

Crawford, 3-1-1 with a 1.96 GAA lifetime versus Nashville, likely will be back in net after Ray Emery got the start Friday and made 18 saves.

Crawford made 31 stops in Chicago's 3-0 win over the Predators on Feb. 24 in Nashville, where the Blackhawks are 3-0-2 in the last five meetings including the playoffs.

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