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Blackhawks vs. Predators: Goaltending key to pivotal Game 5

Image (1) Rinne-thumb-250x166-10157.jpg for post 1184

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators
3:00 p.m. EDT, April 24, 2010
Live on NBC

Before the playoff series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators began, you just had a feeling that this would be a drawn out affair. The Predators used great goaltending and a patient approach to be successful during the season, a style of hockey that counters the high powered attack of the Blackhawks.

With the Blackhawks headed into the postseason with questions in net and on defense, especially with the loss of Brian Campbell, there Predators had a more than decent chance of surprising and even upsetting who some believe to be the Stanley Cup favorites.

After four games, and a 2-2 series tie, not much has changed in that assumption. While dominated at times in two shutout losses, they’ve been able to frustrate the Hawks enough to secure two big wins and head into a pivotal Game 5 with the series tied. A win today, for either team, and the series is in their control.

The questions is whether the Blackhawks can put together that mysterious back-to-back win, as each team has been able to respond after a tough loss. After Thursday’s shutout loss in Chicago, the Predators are hoping that momentum will swing back in their direction. Per Bryan Mullen of the Tennessean:

“You’re going to get those momentum swings all through the games,” Nashville captain Jason Arnott said. “We’ve seen that in this series. It’s in their favor now. They’re going home after a win. But we’re confident that our game is pretty good when we stick to our system, especially on the road.”

The Blachawks have needed shutouts in each of their wins to secure the victory, taking advantage of the Predators’ lack of scoring depth. Pekka Rinne has been magnificent for the Predators and for a team that may be without leading scorer Patrick Hornqvist for yet another game, he will need to be their best player yet again.

Antti Niemi and Pekka Rinne have statistically been the best goaltenders in the playoffs, and while the Predators have certainly managed to frustrate the Hawks it’s been the surprising play of Niemi that will be the key to a series win for the Blackhawks.

The Predators have the ability to stick with the Hawks as long as Rinne is lights out in net yet have had troubles scoring goals even with a higher than expected shot total. It’s been the play of Niemi that has been the ultimate difference maker. He’s been able to quiet the questions about the Hawks’ goaltending woes, but with Pekka Rinne playing just as good on the other end of the ice the pressure will only mount.

This is the pivotal game of the series, and more so that in any other playoff series the goaltending will be key to whoever it is moves on.