Blackhawks-Predators Preview

If there was ever a scenario in which sports fans might prefer for their team to celebrate a series win in a visiting arena rather than their home city, this could be it.

The Nashville Predators organization has gone to great lengths to try to keep Chicago fans and their traditions out of Bridgestone Arena. That happens to be where the Central Division foes will meet Thursday night in Game 5 of their first-round series with the Blackhawks in a position to end the Predators' once-promising season.

The Predators have taken steps geared toward limiting options for Chicago fans to buy tickets for games in Nashville, and the organization has gone as far as electing to have the crowd sing the national anthem before games rather than a performer to silence Chicago fans' cheering of the anthem, as is part of the Blackhawks' home-ice tradition.

That tradition has in recent history included plenty of deep postseason runs, and the likelihood for another grew with Tuesday's 3-2 home win in three overtimes to give Chicago a 3-1 series edge.

Brent Seabrook scored a minute into the third extra session to make a 50-save effort from Scott Darling hold up.

Aside from the commanding series lead, there isn't much more that separates the teams. They've each scored 13 goals, while Nashville is 3 of 15 on the power play and Chicago is 2 of 15. Nashville's average shot advantage of 44.5-36.5 might be the most substantial difference. The Blackhawks have just found the net in both overtime games.

"Every game's been tight, every game's been on the line, a very competitive series," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Momentum's been shifting during games, and shift to shift for that matter."

Logic might lead one to think that would favor veteran Pekka Rinne, but it's been the inexperienced Darling who has stolen the spotlight - as well as Corey Crawford's starting job.

Darling took over after a 6-2 Game 2 loss in Nashville and won both home games. In three appearances in the series, all victories, the rookie has a .969 save percentage with an average of 42.3 saves per game. For the season, he's 12-4-0 with a .944 save percentage.

Continuing that in his first playoff start in Nashville is the next step, though he hasn't seen a huge drop-off away from the United Center. Darling is 7-3-0 with a .932 save percentage on the road, including a 3-1 victory in Nashville on Dec. 6.

Rinne, meanwhile, has seen his season fade along with the Predators'. He made 45 saves Tuesday, but fell to 8-13-4 with a .903 save percentage dating to Feb. 19 after going 34-7-2 with a .932 mark until that point.

Things have been especially bad with the team going 1-7-2 with 3.70 goals against dating to March 29.

"Our guys are a resilient group," said coach Peter Laviolette, who has been without defenseman Shea Weber and forward Mike Fisher due to lower-body injuries. "They will not cave. They will not go away quietly. They'll be ready to play Game 5, I promise you."

They might also be due for things to fall their way. Chicago has won six of eight meetings this season, though it holds just a 24-22 scoring edge and is 3 of 28 on the power play. The Predators have dropped seven of nine playoff games while conceding only a 25-22 scoring advantage.

Four of those 22 have come from a rejuvenated Colin Wilson in this series after the center went his last 15 games of the regular season without scoring.

The clubs' only other playoff series ended with the Blackhawks eliminating the Predators in Game 6 of the 2010 first round in Nashville. Chicago has won seven of 10 postseason meetings and three of five at Bridgestone.

Another win would send the Blackhawks to the conference semifinals for the fifth time in seven seasons under Quenneville, during which their .612 playoff winning percentage is the league's best.

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