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Preds dominate Blackhawks, pull within five points of division lead…

The last two times these teams met, it was a high scoring affair.

Tonight was no different.

In front of 17,113 fans inside Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on Saturday night. Goals from Craig SmithKevin KleinColin WilsonSergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist propelled the Preds to their 28th victory of the season and their seventh win of their last eight.

Nashville is still sixth in the Western Conference standings but they pull within four of the Blackhawks (5th) and St. Louis Blues (4th) and they are now three wins away from Detroit for first overall in the Central.

Pekka Rinne made 20 saves and his counterpart at the other end of the ice, Corey Crawford, finished with just 13 before giving way to Ray Emery.

The visitors opened the scoring after Marian Hossa danced past Shea Weber and went post-to-post on Rinne for the score. The 2,000 or so Chicago fans in the building made their presence known when the puck went over the line.

“I was surprised how loud they were,” Preds winger Brandon Yip said. “It gives you a little motivation. You don’t want to hear the Blackhawks fans cheering so you try to not give them something to cheer about.”

Late in the period, Nashville would respond via a power play tally by Smith. The Wisconsin Badger scored his 10th of the year but only his second since December 6.

The Predators picked up where they left off in the middle frame when defenseman Klein made a relatively routine play. He gained the red line but, instead of the standard dump in around the boards, he put the puck on net. It ended up skipping on the ice which fooled Crawford. The puck got by the Chicago netminder to make it 2-1, Preds.

But it didn’t stop there. Nashville would make it 3-1 when, midway through the period, Legwand tossed a rolling puck through the Blackhawk crease to Wilson who potted his 10th of the season.

Then, just minutes later, Kostitsyn would bag his 12th of the year on a sweet move. Mike Fisher hit his linemate with a solid pass but he couldn’t shoot right away as Crawford had the net guarded. Kostitsyn then deke’d around him and, when Crawford lay on the ice, he shot it up and over him for the score.

Kostitsyn’s goal was the final one for Crawford. Emery, who Predators fans know well from last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Anaheim Ducks, was called into duty for the rest of the night.

To start the final stanza, Chicago made things interesting on yet another goal by Hossa. He received an up-the-gut pass from defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, skated into the Preds zone and backhanded the puck between Rinne’s legs for the goal.

The Preds responded just moments later when Klein wound up and took a hard shot from the point. Hornqvist was able to get a stick on it in front, deflecting it past Emery for Nashville’s fifth goal of the contest.

The parting shot from Predators camp didn’t come from Cell Block 303 or any other Preds fans. Instead, it came from Head Coach Barry Trotz.

“I’d like to thank all the Chicago fans for coming tonight,” Trotz said. “Nashville is a great town. I hope you enjoyed your time.”

Later on in his press conference, he added “Nashville is a great destination. We’ll take the Chicago people’s money.”

Next up for the Predators are the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. Monday night’s tilt will be the last time the Preds play at home before the All-Star Break and the last time they’ll play the Blue Jackets this season.

It’ll be interesting to see how Nashville plays against the league’s worst team after beating one of the league’s best.

Puck drops at 7:00pm Central.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover //