The NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs begin with eight of the 16 teams in action and in every series the team with home-ice advantage is the favorite except one: Blackhawks-Predators, with Chicago a -155 favorite at Bovada and Nashville at +125.
The Predators finished second in the Central Division with 104 points and Chicago third with 102. So why would Nashville be an underdog? The Predators went 6-12-3 in their final 21 games and closed the regular season on six-game losing streak. Chicago has gone 25-19-4 since Jan. 1 but enters the playoffs having lost its past four games.
Hawks Have Plenty Of Experience
The Blackhawks have 17 players with a combined 25 Stanley Cup championship rings, including two each for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Fifteen players remain from Chicago's team that won the Stanley Cup in 2013. Nine players were on the 2010 championship team.
The Blackhawks and Predators met four times in the regular season. The Blackhawks won three out of four games against the Predators, but needed extra time to win two games at United Center; 2-1 in overtime on Oct. 18 and 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 29, which was the last time the teams played one another. Chicago won 3-1 at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 6 and Nashville won 3-2 at home on Oct. 23. Chicago outscored Nashville 11-9 and had a 142-120 edge in shots on goal.
Left wing James Neal scored five of Nashville's goals in the season series. Hossa led Chicago with three goals, and Keith led the Blackhawks with four assists. Chicago's No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford, appeared in two of the four games this season and was 2-0-0, allowing five goals on 60 shots. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne allowed eight goals on 104 shots in three appearances. Crawford has 32 wins, a .920 save percentage and a 2.21 GAA in the postseason in his career.
Nashville is back in the playoffs under first-year coach Peter Laviolette after failing to qualify in their final two seasons with Barry Trotz, the only coach in Predators history until Laviolette came aboard. Chicago is in the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season under coach Joel Quenneville. The teams haven't met in the postseason since 2010 when the Hawks beat the Predators in the West quarterfinals on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. Laviolette coached against Quenneville and the Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final with the Philadelphia Flyers. Chicago won in six games.
Kane May Play Game 1
The big story line here is the likely return of Blackhawks star winger Patrick Kane. He was cleared for contact Monday, marking the first time since his return to the ice during shoulder-injury rehab that he practiced without wearing a non-contact sweater. Kane said afterward that he didn't "really know yet" if he will play in Game 1. When Kane broke his collarbone on Feb. 24, it was thought he wouldn't be back until the Western Conference Finals if the Hawks got that far. When asked if Kane could play in Game 1 against the Predators, Quenneville said: "Yeah, he could."
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