Nashville, TN (Sports Network) - Patrick Sharp scored twice and rookie Antti Niemi used 33 saves to record his second shutout of the series, as the Chicago Blackhawks blanked the Nashville Predators, 3-0, in Game 4 of their Western Conference quarterfinal set at Bridgestone Arena.
Jonathan Toews also scored for the Blackhawks, who evened this best-of-seven series at 2-2. Chicago welcomed back defenseman Brian Campbell, who had been out of action since mid-March after he suffered fractures to his clavicle and ribs due to a hit by Washington's Alex Ovechkin.
Pekka Rinne allowed three goals on 30 shots for Nashville, which is still searching for its first playoff series win in franchise history. Patric Hornqvist, the leading goal scorer for Nashville during the regular season, missed his third straight game due to an upper body injury that he aggravated in the series opener.
Game 5 is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m (et) in Chicago.
Midway through the opening period, Chicago scored the game's first goal. Skating on the power play after an interference call on Francis Bouillon, a shot from the centerpoint was saved by Rinne. However, the netminder failed to control it, and after several attempts, Patrick Kane's rebound try from below the right circle hit Rinne in the chest, bounced into the air and landed in the crease before Sharp finally poked it over the goal line at the 10:57 mark.
With 4:55 to play in the first, Chicago's Tomas Kopecky drilled Kevin Klein into the rear boards from behind. Klein remained on the ice in obvious pain for several minutes but eventually skated off under his own power.
Kopecky was given a boarding minor, and only nine seconds later David Bolland was whistled for a delay of game penalty. However, the Preds were unable to cash in on the lengthy two-man advantage despite several one-timers by Shea Weber.
Near the seven-minute mark of the second stanza, Rinne made a timely glove save at the right post on a rebound attempt by Adam Burish while sliding across the crease to keep the Preds within one.
Soon after Steve Sullivan failed to convert on a partial breakaway when Niemi made a pad save, the Blackhawks moved ahead by two on Toews' first goal of the series. Marian Hossa held the puck inside the right circle and pushed it toward the net. From atop the crease, Toews punched the disc into the back of the cage at 12:55.
Chicago increased its advantage to 3-0 with 3:43 to play before the second intermission courtesy of a nice individual effort by Sharp, who gained control of the puck in the neutral zone along the left side. After a deke that allowed Sharp to proceed past two defenders, he skated across the slot and sent a laser wrist shot that lit the lamp from the inner rim of the right circle.
Niemi, who made 11 saves in both the first and second periods, stopped all 11 shots he faced over the final 20 minutes to close it out. The Nashville forwards were kept to the outside, and the Preds did not have much sustained offensive pressure.
Nashville has never won more than two games in a postseason series...This is the first meeting between these clubs in the playoffs...Game 6 would return here on Monday...Nashville blueliner Denis Grebeshkov, who has been sidelined for more than seven weeks with a groin injury, did not play despite earlier reports that he may return to action. In other Predators injury news, forward Jordin Tootoo left the game with 1:08 to play in the third after he was hit directly in the face with a slap shot...Niemi also posted a shutout in Chicago's 2-0 victory in Game 2...The Blackhawks were 1-for-2 on the power play, while Nashville failed on five chances with the extra skater...Toews also assisted on Sharp's goal in the first period.