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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Predators in Game 1 tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Predators in Game 1 tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Predators in Game 1 tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage starts with Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

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Five Things to Watch:

1. The importance of Game 1.

According to Elias, teams that win Game 1 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs series hold an all-time series record of 447-204 (68.7 percent). The Predators have never won a playoff series in franchise history when losing the first game (0-7) while the Blackhawks have gone on to win the series 11 of 12 times under Joel Quenneville when winning the first game. Getting off to a good start is crucial.

2. How will rookies handle playoff spotlight?

The Blackhawks will be starting four rookies in Game 1 with Ryan Hartman, John Hayden, Tanner Kero and Nick Schmaltz each getting their first taste of postseason action. These aren't just guys playing small roles; they've all had a big hand in the team's success this year. While some of them can lean on their big-game experience from college or at a different level, the Stanley Cup playoffs are clearly a different beast. It may take a little bit of time to shake the jitters and get comfortable.

3. Corey Crawford vs. Pekka Rinne.

Crawford and Rinne are both solid goaltenders, but there's a (big) difference between the two of them. When the playoffs roll around, one guy gets better and the other tends to go the other way. Crawford has a 2.37 goals against average and .918 save percentage for his career in the regular season, and a 2.26 GAA and .920 save percentage in the postseason. Rinne has a 2.38 GAA and .917 save percentage for his career in the regular season while his playoff numbers fall to 2.51 GAA and .912 save percentage. This could end up being the deciding factor in the series.

4. Health concerns in Nashville.

With Artem Anisimov (leg) cleared to play in Game 1, the Blackhawks are entering the playoffs as healthy as can be. The Predators, on the other hand, are dealing with a pair of injuries up front. Calle Jarnkrok (15 goals) and Colin Wilson (12) are two of the team's 12 players who have scored at least 10 goals this season, and both might be unavailable tonight due to lower-body injuries. We'll find out for sure at game time, but these would be tough losses. They'll need all hands on deck to take down the Blackhawks. 

5. Beware of shorthanded goals.

The Predators are an average team in the penalty kill department with an 80.9 percent success rate, but they're dangerous. They led the league with 12 shorthanded goals, with Viktor Arvidsson scoring five of them. Those are absolutely deflating for teams on the power play, and huge momentum-boosters for teams on the scoring end of them. The Blackhawks must be cognizant of that fact.

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Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

The NHL and NHL Players' Association worked diligently into the late hours on Tuesday and reportedly made significant progress as the two sides look to come to an overall agreement on the protocols and safety measures for Phase 3 and 4, transition rules and a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension. 

Nothing is official until the entire deal is ratified — the voting could take place Friday or Saturday — but, barring any last-minute breakdowns, Edmonton and Toronto are expected to be named the two hub cities for the league's 24-team Return to Play plan, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. Chicago was among the four finalists from a field that started with 10 candidates.

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Vegas was a clear frontrunner from the beginning because of its appealing and tight bubble environment, but the NHL and NHLPA were forced to shift its attention elsewhere after an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

It was originally believed that the league would put each conference in opposite regions to eliminate any sort of competitive advantage, but that no longer appears to be the case. The Western Conference is expected to play in Edmonton while the Eastern Conference will go to Toronto, which means the Blackhawks will head to Edmonton if or when hockey officially returns.

Both hub cities will host exhibition games, the qualifying round and Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but only one of them will host the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final. It's unclear which city will host the latter.

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

When the NHL's Return To Play plan and 24-team playoff format were originally being hashed out, there was some hope that the Blackhawks could receive some much-needed defensive depth from Ian Mitchell. But that may not be the case.

Chicago could use all the help they can get in their potential best-of-5 play-in series against the Oilers under the league's format.

Mitchell, 21, was drafted by the Hawks in the second round (No. 57 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He spent the past three seasons at the University of Denver, captaining the Pioneers this past year and setting a career high in goals (10) and points (32) through 36 games.

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The promising defenseman signed a three-year entry-level contract with Chicago in April after the NHL paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11.

Wednesday morning, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported players in a similar boat to Mitchell who signed during the pause, as well as unsigned draft picks, are not expected to be eligible if and when the NHL resumes to finish the 2019-20 season.