Daily Herald
Predators to provide physical challenge for Hawks
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 4/11/2010 9:51 PM

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While Colorado might have been a more favorable first-round matchup for the Blackhawks, that scenario went out the window Sunday when they lost to Detroit in overtime at the United Center and let the Western Conference title slip through their fingers.

And so it will be the Nashville Predators coming to town this week instead - a team the Hawks haven't seen since Dec. 27, when they completed their six-game, regular-season series.

"They're a competitive team," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Geez, it's been so long since we played them. Here we had six games before it seems Christmas, but I don't think it will take long to recapture the intensity of the series."

The Predators aren't an easy team to play. It's a physical, in-your-face checking club that features three very good defensemen in Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Dam Hamhuis.

"They're very well disciplined as far as how they play and how they check and how they approach the game," Quenneville said. "Being smart and being respectful and knowing it's going to be a challenging, tight series is basically our thought process."

The Hawks won the season series 4-2 but had to go to a shootout to win two of those games.

Nashville finished with 47 wins and 100 points despite an offense that ranked ninth in the conference. The Predators had only two 20-goal scorers in Patric Hornqvist (30) and Martin Erat (21) and ranked 23rd on the power play and 28th killing penalties.

Goalie Pekka Rinne was 32-16-5 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. He, like Antti Niemi, never has appeared in a playoff game.

"We'll be real familiar with them, that's for sure, in terms of watching a lot of video and keying in on what kind of systems they're using," Hawks center John Madden said. "They're a resilient team. They use their whole bench and play their system very well. They have some defensemen that can really shoot the puck (Weber and Suter), and they have a go-to line, so there's plenty to talk about and to work on."

Weber can pound the puck from the point as hard as any defenseman in the NHL.

"They're a pretty physical team, but we've had some success against them," Hawks winger Patrick Kane said.

"They're not afraid to run out of position, so the biggest thing for me is probably move the puck as quick as you can and try to get to the net, beat your guy off the wall because they might overpursue on different things, but that's the way any team is."

Hawks goalie Antti Niemi started only one of the six games against Nashville, winning 5-4 on Dec. 27, in Chicago. Cristobal Huet made the other five starts.

The Hawks are confident that Niemi can take them far into the playoffs after the first-year goalie went 6-0-1 down the stretch.

"He's had a very strong season," Patrick Sharp said. "I can't think of too many games he let us down. He's been very solid back there and makes big saves when you think the puck is going in the net. We're confident with him in net."