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5 Keys: Predators at Blackhawks, Game 1

Health of Calle Jarnkrok, Colin Wilson pivotal for Nashville; Chicago rookie forwards to be tested

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- The Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks will meet in Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series at United Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports).

The Blackhawks, who eliminated the Predators in the first round of their 2010 and 2015 championships, hope to win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in seven seasons. Nashville is looking to advance past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in its 10th postseason appearance.

Here are 5 keys for Game 1:


1. Predators health

Nashville enters the series with forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Colin Wilson questionable for Game 1 with lower-body injuries. Jarnkrok, who missed the final game of the regular season, participated in the Predators optional morning skate. Wilson, who missed the final two games, did not. Coach Peter Laviolette didn't provide a definitive update on either player.

Video: NSH@BUF: Wilson scores PPG on Johansen's nifty pass


2. Blackhawks youth

Chicago will dress four rookie forwards in Game 1: Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, John Hayden and Tanner Kero.

The Blackhawks got 105 points (44 goals, 61 assists) from seven rookies this season, and needs that success to continue.

"They're just part of our team," Chicago general manager Stan Bowman said before the morning skate Thursday. "You have to be an NHL playoff rookie at some point, and I think they'll get through it fine."

Video: CHI@COL: Hartman beats Pickard five-hole


3. Rinne's third swing at Blackhawks

Goalie Pekka Rinne has started every game of Nashville's previous two series against Chicago, which each ended with the Blackhawks winning in six games. Rinne is 4-8-0 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .910 save percentage against the Blackhawks in the playoffs.

"It should be emotions running high, an exciting, fast-paced series and yeah, personally, I really want to beat this team," Rinne said.


4. Anisimov's return

The Blackhawks played the final 13 games of the regular season without Artem Anisimov, who centers a line with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. He hasn't played since sustaining a lower-body injury against the Montreal Canadiens on March 14, and returned to practice Tuesday.

"He's had two good practices," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "You gauge that situation. We'll gauge his effectiveness and energy as we're going along here. We'll budget him for a regular spot and see how he handles it."

Video: STL@CHI: Panarin sets up Anisimov for go-ahead goal


5. Timely goals

The Blackhawks found ways to win games all season when they were outshot or struggled in puck possession. They won with great goaltending and key goals, a trend that can be traced back to the 2015 series against the Predators. Nashville outshot Chicago in four of the six games, but lost three.

"That's where we have to get better," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "If we're out-chancing or outshooting or out-possessing a team, we've got to find a way to outscore that team and win against that team."


Predators projected lineup

Filip Forsberg -- Ryan Johansen -- Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala -- Mike Fisher -- James Neal

Pontus Aberg -- Colton Sissons -- Craig Smith

Cody McLeod -- Vernon Fiddler -- Austin Watson

Roman Josi -- Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm -- P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin -- Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne

Juuse Saros

Scratched: Petter Granberg, Miikka Salomaki, PA Parenteau, Brad Hunt, Harry Zolnierczyk, Anthony Bitetto

Injured: Colin Wilson (lower body), Yannick Weber (upper body), Calle Jarnkrok (lower body)


Blackhawks projected lineup

Nick Schmaltz -- Jonathan Toews -- Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin -- Artem Anisimov -- Patrick Kane

Ryan Hartman -- Marcus Kruger -- Marian Hossa

John Hayden -- Tanner Kero -- Jordin Tootoo

Duncan Keith -- Niklas Hjalmarsson

Johnny Oduya -- Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell -- Trevor van Riemsdyk

Corey Crawford

Scott Darling

Scratched: Michal Kempny, Dennis Rasmussen, Tomas Jurco, Vinnie Hinostroza, Gustav Forsling

Injured: Michal Rozsival (facial bone), Andrew Desjardins (lower body)

Status report

If Jarnkrok plays, he likely will center the third line. Sissons likely would move to center on the fourth line and Fiddler could be scratched. … Anisimov had a collision with Darling during the morning skate, but both were uninjured.


Who's hot

Kane had 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in the final 16 games of the regular season, and had nine points (three goals, six assists) in five games against Nashville this season. … Panarin has eight points (seven goals, one assist in his past seven games. … Arvidsson has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in his past 15 games, and had three goals in four games against Chicago. … Rinne is 6-3-1 with one shutout in his past 10 starts. … Smith has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in his past 10 games.

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