Nashville, which scored and also gave up 225 goals this season, went 14-6-1 after the Olympic break. The Blackhawks initially struggled following the Vancouver Games, losing eight of 11 at one point. They regrouped for a late six-game winning streak before losing the season finale to Detroit and finishing second instead of first in the Western Conference.
Even though the Blackhawks and Predators are in the same division and played six times this season, they haven’t seen each other since Dec. 27.
The Predators were 2-4 against Chicago this season with one victory at the United Center. Their biggest challenge starting Friday, other than handling the din of the Blackhawks’ home crowd, will be their own playoff history — they are 0-10 in road playoff games.
“They’re going to be jacked up, their crowd and the noise factor’s going to be extremely high,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ve got to control our emotions and execute our system. When things are all noisy and people are flying around … your security blanket is your system.”
Rookie Antti Niemi has taken over as Chicago’s No. 1 goalie and like his counterpart and countryman Rinne will be making his playoff debut.
Niemi’s laid-back demeanor is one of the reasons he was able to take the top spot from Cristobal Huet.
“He’s zero or as no-maintenance as any guy out there, especially for goalies,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Chicago, which lost to Detroit in the Western Conference finals last year, likes to play a puck possession game to take the heat off its goalie.
During the regular season, the Blackhawks led the league with an average of 34.1 shots per game and also gave up an NHL-low 25.1 shots.
“Defensively, they’ve given up the fewest shots of any team in the league,” Trotz said. “There’s a couple of factors. A, they’ve got a very skilled puck-possession team, and they have the puck a lot. B, they don’t take a lot of penalties, and C, they’ve got a mobile defense that can get them out of trouble.”
Nashville had a 30-goal scorer in Patric Hornqvist, who tied for the teams points lead (51) with ex-Blackhawk Steve Sullivan. Hornqvist is ready to go after taking a slap shot off the upper body April 7.
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Nashville.com Sports Editor