Preds, Blackhawks clash aiming to extend early success

( – A pair of Central Division foes will battle for first
place on Thursday when the Nashville Predators host the Chicago Blackhawks at
Bridgestone Arena.

Neither Nashville nor Chicago has suffered a regulation loss this season, but
Peter Laviolette’s Predators hold the early lead in the division with 10
points off a 4-0-2 record. The Blackhawks are one point behind with a 4-0-1

The Blackhawks already have a leg up in this season series, posting a 2-1
overtime win against the visiting Predators on Saturday. Chicago captain
Jonathan Toews scored the decisive goal on a short-handed tally at 3:26 of the
extra session.

The victory snapped a three-game skid in the series for Chicago. Nashville has
won four of six overall against the Blackhawks and two of the past three
encounters in Music City.

Chicago recorded a second straight win on Tuesday, ending a four-game
homestand with an easy 4-0 win over Philadelphia. Patrick Kane scored a pair
of power-play goals and Antti Raanta stopped all 32 shots to post a shutout in
his first start of the season.

The Blackhawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening period by scoring three
times in the span of 2 minutes, 6 seconds late in the stanza. The score stayed
that way until Kane notched his third marker of the season in the third

“I thought the power play was pretty good tonight,” Kane said. “It was good to
get a couple.”

Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell also lit the lamp for the Blackhawks. Patrick
Sharp added two assists for the hosts.

Raanta notched his second career shutout and improved his overall record to
14-5-4 in 26 lifetime appearances. He expects to get the start again tonight
as regular No. 1 Corey Crawford will not join the team for its two-game road
trip to Nashville and St. Louis due to an upper-body injury.

The Blackhawks recalled Scott Darling from their AHL affiliate in Rockford to
back up Raanta while Crawford is sidelined.

Nashville is playing the middle test of a three-game homestand tonight after
beginning the residency with Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout victory over Arizona. Ryan
Ellis had a goal and two assists in regulation for the Preds and scored the
winner in a shootout.

Mike Ribeiro and James Neal also scored for the Predators, with Neal’s goal in
the third period tying the game at 3-3. Neal tallied a mere 21 seconds after
former Predator Martin Erat’s power-play goal gave the Coyotes a brief 3-2

“We’re going to need those points at the end of the year,” Neal said. “It was
a big two points for us.”

Pekka Rinne made 33 saves and stopped Erat in the fourth round of the shootout
to seal the win.

The Predators are without a regulation loss through six games for the first
time since going eight straight with a point to begin the 2010-11 campaign.

Nashville will complete its homestand on Saturday when Neal’s former team, the
Pittsburgh Penguins, visit Bridgestone Arena.