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Is this the biggest game in Predators franchise history?…

Is this the most important game in the history of the Nashville Predators franchise?

The Chicago Blackhawks obviously think it is.

Music City USA will witness a game of mammoth proportions tonight as the second seeded Blackhawks take on the underdog Preds at Bridgestone Arena. And, if Game 3 was any indication of how the atmosphere is going to be, you will want to be in the building for Game 4.

If there was any doubt as to how big Chicago thinks this game is for the series – and their season – consider this:

Defenseman Brian Campbell is rumored to return to the lineup tonight in an effort to relieve forward-turned-blueliner Dustin Byfuglien of his defensive duties. If you remember, Campbell has been out since March 14 when he tossed into the end boards by Alexander Ovechkin (video here). Ovechkin was suspended two games for the hit but the $7.1 million Chicago defenseman has missed over a month with a broken collarbone and a broken rib. He’s being rushed back and will probably play in tonight’s tilt.

Guess they’re a little nervous, huh?

Wouldn’t you be? They finished the regular season just a single point shy of the best record in the Western Conference, they lost Game 1 to the Predators, a team who’d never won a playoff game on the road, they won game two but were hardly dominant, they came out for Game 3 “as if they were entitled to something” and now they’re facing an upstart Nashville club who has all the momentum after going up 2-1 in the series and who has home ice advantage. So rushing their puck-moving defenseman Campbell back into the lineup is nothing short of a desperation move.

What impact could he really have after being rushed back from an injury of that magnitude? Is just the name alone supposed to make the Preds intimidated? Don’t get me wrong, if I’m Head Coach Joel Quenneville, I’m pulling out all the stops too, but not having their power play quarterback is not the problem. Their lack of focus is the problem. Their obsession with making the cute play is the problem. Their attitude of “we’re too good to have to play 100% this early” is the problem. That comes from the locker room, not an injured player returning to the lineup.

The Predators have nothing to fear except themselves. If they (and the crowd) can will themselves to play the exact same way they did in Game 3, the score might be closer but they’ll come out victorous once again. And a 3-1 series lead gives them three – count ’em THREE – chances to win once to close out the series and advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history.

The pressure is on Chicago, not Nashville. If the Blackhawks find a way to win tonight, the series will be tied and it’ll become a best of three, putting the heavily favored Blackhawks back in the drivers seat. If the Preds win however, in Game 5, Chicago very well could collectively decide to “get ’em next year” and wilt under the pressure.

One thing they could take with them though? Antti Niemi was not the problem.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Jonathan Daniel (Getty Images)