Watch the first two games of the Blackhawks-Predators playoff series Wednesday and Friday on Comcast Sportsnet, with Pregame Live coverage beginning 30 minutes before the puck drops.
DENVER – The Blackhawks will look at their 82nd regular-season game for what it was: a pretty good game, sans a few of their top players, despite it being their fourth loss in a row.
But Saturday wasn’t so much about looking back as looking forward: it’s playoff time.
The Blackhawks closed out their regular season with their fourth consecutive loss, a 3-2 defeat to the Colorado Avalanche. It was another one-goal loss, this one coming in the last 33 seconds. But considering the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff path was set hours before this game and Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith took the night off to rest, the Blackhawks could live with it.
And now it’s all about the Nashville Predators, the Blackhawks’ opponent when the playoffs begin next week. Nashville hosts the first two games, with Game 1 slated for 7:30 p.m. CT Wednesday and Game 2 scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CT Friday. Games 3 and 4 are back in Chicago; Game 3 is 2 p.m. April 19 and Game 4 is 8:30 p.m. April 21. The Blackhawks haven’t seen the Predators since Dec. 29, when they had their final regular-season matchup in Chicago. The Predators also had a bumpy regular-season finish, going 0-4-2 in their last six games. But the Blackhawks say that means nothing.
“It starts fresh; everything’s even,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They had a great start to their season. They have a tremendousback end, they’re strong in net and have assets up front. Certainly they’re dangerous in a lot of ways. It’s a great year from where they were last year. It’ll be a great matchup.”
The Blackhawks should enter the first round in pretty good health. Brad Richards and Kimmo Timonen, who each missed these last few regular-season games with upper-body injuries, should be ready to go. The one wildcard is Patrick Kane (fractured left clavicle), who has been skating well and taking stronger shots but has yet to be cleared for contact according to Quenneville. Still, it seems Kane will join the Blackhawks sooner than the original timetable, which put him out until the Western Conference Finals.
Still, if Kane’s not cleared for this first round, the Blackhawks have to be prepared to play without him. They have to find a way to score goals, something they’ve been lacking down the stretch – five goals in their last four games.
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The Blackhawks will take their final regular-season game for what it was: a pretty solid game despite missing Kane, Keith, Toews and Corey Crawford, who was also given the night off to rest. They’ll start on the road and against a Predators team that has offense to go with the defense and goaltending they’ve had for years. Let the second season begin.
“Well, we know we’re facing an extremely good team,” Marian Hossa said. “They played very consistent the whole season. They have great balance and [they’re] very dangerous offensively. It’ll be a great challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”