» By TRENT SINGER – tsinger@my.apsu.edu

Outside Bridgestone Arena, winter has brought cold weather to Middle Tennessee, but inside the building is where a story has emerged. Since the start of the new year, the Predators have won eight of their last 10 games and expectations have risen.

The Predators continued to make noise in the NHL by beating the visiting Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday 5-2. Veteran Blackhawk Marian Hossa scored two goals for Chicago, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Predators’ offense, which won with five different players contributing goals.

Defensively, veteran goalie Pekka Rinne played outstanding against Chicago’s productive offense, which is ranked third in the league. Rinne ended the night with 20 saves and two goals allowed.

“These games are always exciting against Chicago,” Rinne said. “A lot of Chicago fans showed up, too. It’s a fun rivalry, and for sure our fans stepped up.”

Despite losing to Chicago, the Predators are in fourth place with 60 points in the Central division and the Blackhawks are tied with the Blues and have 64 points. The Central division is currently led by the Red Wings, who have 65 points, and are proving to be the most competitive division in the NHL.

In this weekend’s All-Star game, Nashville will be sending three players to compete in festivities. Defenseman Shea Weber is making his third All-Star appearance, while defenseman Ryan Suter will be going for the first time since entering the league in 2003. Rookie center Craig Smith is one of 12 rookies who will compete in Saturday’s skills competition.

It was only three years ago that Predators fans experienced the hardships of new ownership. After ending the season in 10th place in the Western Conference, ticket sales began to plummet, and rumors of the team relocating to another city were re-ignited.

Nashville has shown resilience by qualifying for the playoffs in both seasons since then. A significant moment for the franchise came last year when the Predators won their first postseason series by defeating the Anaheim Ducks in six games.

The energy in Bridgestone Arena has been revitalized at home games as the Predators continue to climb the NHL standings. Throughout Saturday’s game, celebration erupted as the Predators dismantled Chicago defensively and outclassed them on offense.

For many fans, it was Sergei Kostitsyn’s breakaway goal in the second period that set the crowd off, while for others, it was Kevin Klein’s impressive shot from center ice.

Regardless, the team is certainly sending a message to the rest of the NHL that they deserve to be handled with care. TAS