Patrick Kane and Brad Richards will play Wednesday night when the Chicago Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of Western Conference quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena. Welcome to the postseason, everyone.
Kane missed the final 21 games due to a broken left clavicle he suffered Feb. 24, but still finished second on the team with 27 goals and 64 points. The star winger was originally expected to miss nearly two months, maybe even more, with his injury.
The Hawks and Predators have met once in the postseason, a 2010 conference quarterfinal series Chicago won in six games and would go on to win the Stanley Cup. Chicago went 3-1-0 against the Preds this season, winning twice beyond regulation, but the two teams haven't faced each other since Dec. 29.
Richards also returns to the lineup after missing the final week of the regular-season with an upper-body injury.
Captain Jonathan Toews and veteran All-Star Marian Hossa stepped up his Kane's absence. Toews passed Kane for the team lead in points, while the 36-year-old Hossa has lit up the scoresheet with 22 goals and 61 points this season.
The Hawks allowed the fewest goals this season, a stringy 2.27 per game. Goaltender Corey Crawford shared the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltenders who play at least 25 games on the club that allows the fewest goals. It marked Crawford's second Jennings Trophy, an award he also won in 2012-13, and 30-year-old Canadian net minder has stolen some games down the stretch for the Hawks, and he posted a 32-20-5 mark with a .924 save percentage this season despite missing some time in December with injury.
Crawford started twice against the Preds this season, winning an overtime game and a shootout decision. He will get the start in net, and he is 9-7-1 against Nashville with a 2.76 GAA and a .894 save percentage in 17 games.
Two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith continues to be a top three defenseman in the NHL. Keith has been the stable force for the blue line and took on the responsibility of revolving partners after coach Joel Quenneville separated the veteran from his sidekick Robin -- Brent Seabrook. The Swedish duo of Niklas Hjalmarsson -- the most underrated Hawks player -- and Johnny Oduya, who has recently turned his season around, are normally the second pair. Veteran trade deadline acquisition Kimmo Timonen was also shutdown towards the end of regular-season with an injury, and the Hawks hope he can find his game in time to provide depth. The main concern on the blue line has been the play Michal Rozsival and David Runblad have produced, or lack there of. The Hawks recalled Kyle Cumiskey from AHL Rockford to provide a spark for the third pair.
Here are the lines:
Expected scratches include Vermette, Rundblad, Cumiskey, Desjardins and Paliotta. #Blackhawks— Tracey Myers (@TramyersCSN) April 15, 2015
Q on Vermette being out: "One of those situations where it's performance-based... But depth and experience will be important going forward."— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) April 15, 2015
Opponent Breakdown: Nashville Predators
The Preds weren't suppose to win the Central Division, but seemingly all season long they looked like they would. But then they didn't. They settled for a second-place finish, behind the St. Louis Blues.
Peter Laviolette's first season as head coach in Nashville resulted in a trip to the playoffs and home-ice advantage in the opening round. The Preds missed the postseason the past two years, which costed Barry Trotz -- previously the only coach in franchise history -- his job. With the President's Trophy in sight, the Preds stumbled by going 0-4-2 during their final six games and a dismal 8-13-4 in the past 25.
The slate is wiped clean for the Preds, who are led by perennial Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne. The Finnish net minder was once again among the league leaders with 41 wins and a 2.18 GAA despite missing nearly a month due to a sprained knee suffered Jan. 13. His game has been like the elevator business since his return -- its had its ups and downs.
Rinne is 14-11-4 in 30 games against the Hawks with a 2.54 GAA and .918 save percentage. He went 1-1-1 in three games this season against Chicago.
The Preds blue line is led by Shea Weber, who boast the most terrifying slap shot in the NHL. Roman Josi, 24, has emerged this season as a top contributor as well with a career-high 15 goals, 40 assists and 55 points in 81 games, tying him for fifth among league defenseman in points.
Calder Trophy candidate Filip Forsberg is tied for second among all rookies with 26 goals and third in points with 62, leading Nashville in both categories. Mike Riberio has had a strong season with 47 assists and 62 points, while James Neal has also provided a spark for the offense. Centers Craig Smith and Colin Wilson reached the 20-goal mark, while Mike Fisher fell one shy and added 39 points while limited to 59 games due to an upper-body injury. Fisher will play in Game 1.
Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen are the only two Preds who have won a Stanley Cup.
Here are the lines from Wednesday's skate:
Nashville: Cody Franson (upper-body, day-to-day) and Eric Nystrom (lower-body, day-to-day)
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: Bridgestone Arena aka United Center South
TV: NBCSN, CSN