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Round 1

Predators hope third time is charm

Nashville seeking first playoff series win in three tries against Chicago

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators know what it's like to catch a team that you've been chasing for years.

The Predators began play as an expansion franchise in the Central Division in the NHL during the 1998-99 season and were chasing the Detroit Red Wings, who won the Stanley Cup four time from 1997-2008, from Day 1. 

These days, it's the Chicago Blackhawks the Predators are trying to catch, and they have an opportunity to do that in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning at United Center on Thursday (8 p.m. NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, FS-TN).

Nashville lost in six games to the Red Wings in the conference quarterfinals in 2004 and in 2008 before defeating Detroitin five games in the conference quarterfinals in 2012. It was a pivotal moment for the Predators, who finally developed a rivalry.

Video: NSH@DAL: Josi cranks home one-timer for PPG

"Just going back in our history, it was always the Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division," Predators general manager David Poile said Monday. "We were always chasing the [Red Wings] all the time. Finally we beat them in the playoffs that one year, and that was a pinnacle for us. As you know, after we beat Detroit, they left the division. They went to the other conference."

The Blackhawks have eliminated the Predators twice in the first round of the playoffs and have gone on to win the Stanley Cup each times. They defeated Nashville in the first round in six games in 2010 and again in 2015.

The Predators see an opportunity to defeat the Blackhawks this time around and ignite a rivalry with the Chicago, similar to the way they did with Detroit. It took three tries to defeat the Red Wings in the playoffs and the Predators are hoping the third time is the charm against the Blackhawks.

"I think it's exactly the same thing," Poile said. "Off the ice, I think it solidified the franchise. It gave the fans that belief, that hope. I think business-wise we took a big jump when we beat the Red Wings. On the ice, which is the most important thing, it gives your players the belief and confidence. In the early days going up to Detroit, it was almost like you were nervous to play them. Not nervous physically, but just nervous that they had so much talent that we just couldn't compete with them.

"We don't feel that way with Chicago. We've had lots of games against them over the years. Again, I give them all of the credit in the world. They are the champions. They are the best team. We haven't beaten them. We haven't won any Stanley Cups. I'm really happy we have the opportunity to try to beat them this year."

Video: MIN@NSH: Forsberg deflects Josi's shot past Stalock

Defeating the Blackhawks won't be an easy task for the Predators. The Blackhawks finished the regular season as the best team in the Western Conference and much of the core group that has won three Stanley Cup championships since 2010 is still intact.

"I think facing a team like Chicago first, it's going to have to bring the best out of us as a group," Predators captain Mike Fisher said. "We know they're a great hockey team and they finished first for a reason, so I think we're going to prepare. We know we've got to be at our best. I think that's a good thing. It's going to really bring out the best in us as a group."

The Predators have gained some valuable playoff experience during the past two seasons. Following the loss to the Blackhawks in 2015, they advanced to Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round against the San Jose Sharks in 2016.

Most of the core group of the Predators has been through the past two years of playoff experiences, and they believe that will serve them well.

"The first series against Chicago, it was a lot of players' first appearance in the playoffs," Predators forward Filip Forsberg said. "We got a lot of experience from that and even more from last year. I think we obviously learned a lot of things playing three really good hockey teams in the playoffs. We learned a lot from those three matches and I think if we can put everything together, it can be a good run."

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