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CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (1st Central Division, 2nd Western Conference)

What a Difference A Year Makes?: A year ago, the Blackhawks made their first playoff appearance since 2002 with more than half of their roster having no previous playoff experience. A year later, among their 2009-10 regulars, only G Antti Niemi enters the 2010 playoffs with no Stanley Cup playoff experience.

What A Difference A Year Makes II: With 112 points, Chicago is the League's only team to improve on its record in each of the past five seasons -- 59 points in 2003-04; 65 points in 2005-06; 71 points in 2006-07; 88 points in 2007-08 and 104 points in 2008-09. Other highlights: first division title since 1992-93; franchise record for wins (52) and points.

Rookie Goalies In 2010 Playoffs: Niemi is one of several goalies who will compete in the playoffs with no previous post-season experience, including Western Conference starters Jimmy Howard (Detroit), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles), Pekka Rinne (Nashville) and Craig Anderson (Colorado).

24 Hours That Made A Difference: Within a 24-hour period last July, the Blackhawks added 210 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience with the free agent signings of RW Marian Hossa (July 1) and C John Madden (July 2). Madden has appeared in 112 playoff games and won two Stanley Cups and a Selke Trophy (2001) as top defensive forward, while Hossa, with 98 playoff games, looks to become the first player in League history to play in three Stanley Cup Final series with three different teams.

Madden (at the time of his signing): "With the addition of Hossa and the experience last year, it's a group with a lot of skill and talent and hungry kids who want the Cup. They have all the elements of making a run at it for this year and years to come. I had no problem giving up security for a chance to win."

Get Close Before You Win: Over the past 30 years a number of playoff teams have had to go through the process of getting close (and losing) before winning the Stanley Cup. In 1979, the New York Islanders lost in the semi-finals before going on a four-year Stanley Cup run from 1980-1983; in 1983, a young and inexperienced Edmonton Oilers team was swept in the Stanley Cup Final by the Islanders before winning consecutive titles in 1984 and 1985; in 1995 and 1996, the Detroit Red Wings lost in the Final and Conference Final before winning back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998; and the Pittsburgh Penguins lost in the 2008 Final before capturing the Stanley Cup last year. The Chicago Blackhawks will look to use the experience of losing in the Conference Final to Detroit last year in a quest to end their 49-year Stanley Cup drought in 2010.

Who's Been Out: Since mid-March, the Blackhawks have been without injured D Brian Campbell and Kim Johnsson.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS (3rd Central Division, 7th Western Conference)

Playoff History: The Predators are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in the past six seasons. With a 47-29-6 record for 100 points, the club has reached the 100-point plateau for the third time in the past five seasons. The Predators are one of just five teams -- along with New Jersey, San Jose, Detroit and Calgary -- to have amassed 40 wins in each of the past five seasons. The club is still looking for its first playoff series win, having drawn Western Conference powerhouses Detroit and San Jose twice each in their four previous opening-round match-ups.

The Key is Offensive Depth: The club features 10 players with 30-or-more points ( Patric Hornqvist, Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat, Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont, Shea Weber, David Legwand, Ryan Suter, Joel Ward and Marcel Goc ). Only the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks had more (11).

Dark Horse: Several hours and 229 picks after the Pittsburgh Penguins made Sidney Crosby the first overall selection in the 2005 Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators announced to a rapidly-dwindling crowd at an Ottawa hotel ballroom that they had selected RW Patric Hornqvist with the 230th and final selection. In 2008-09 Hornqvist became just the ninth player selected last overall since the current draft system was introduced in 1979 to play in the NHL and this season has surpassed all expectations by notching a team-leading 30 goals. The Swedish Olympian also tied for second in the League in game-winning goals (eight).

Dark Horse II: G Pekka Rinne won his first six decisions as a rookie in 2008-09 and captured the starting job late in the season, appearing in 30 of Nashville's final 35 games. He carried that success into his sophomore season, compiling a 32-16-5 record and seven shutouts in 58 appearances. Another late-round steal by Nashville, the Predators nabbed Rinne with the 258th overall pick in the 2004 Entry Draft.

Olympic Medalists: The Predators defense corps is anchored by emerging young stars whose outstanding play at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver helped their respective nations reach the gold medal game. Canada's Shea Weber, 24, ranked second among all defensemen in scoring at the tournament with six points (two goals, four assists) and was second on his team in average ice time (20:27). The United States' Ryan Suter, 25, tied for the tournament lead in plus-minus (+9) and led Team USA in ice time (22:50), including an eye-popping 31:31 in the gold medal game.

Coaching Milestone: Predators head coach Barry Trotz reached a pair of milestones on Apr. 3 at Detroit. At the drop of the puck, he recorded his 900th game coached -- all behind Nashville's bench -- becoming just the sixth coach in NHL history to reach the mark with one team. Trotz joined Al Arbour (N.Y. Islanders), Billy Reay (Chicago), Lindy Ruff (Buffalo), Jack Adams (Detroit) and Toe Blake (Montreal). Trotz' 411 wins with one franchise is tied with Scott Bowman (Detroit) for sixth all-time, behind Arbour, Ruff, Glen Sather (Edmonton), Dick Irvin (Montreal) and Bowman (Montreal).




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