Blackhawks to play Predators in first round

DENVER -- The Chicago Blackhawks will play the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Blackhawks entered the final day of the regular season Saturday with their first-round opponent undetermined. The Blackhawks became locked into playing the Predators and into third place in the Central Division when the St. Louis Blues defeated the Minnesota Wild on Saturday afternoon. The Wild needed to defeat the Blues to give themselves a chance of overtaking the Blackhawks.

The Predators will have home-ice advantage on the Blackhawks and the series will begin in Nashville next week. The schedule is expected to be announced Saturday night.

The Blackhawks and Predators met four times this season. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators 2-1 in overtime in Chicago on Oct. 18, 3-1 in Nashville on Dec. 6 and 5-4 in a shootout in Chicago on Dec. 29. The Predators defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in Nashville on Oct. 23.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews thought the Predators were a different team this season than the Hawks have played in the past.

“This year with their coaching change and their different style and the season they had offensively, being the top of our division for a long time, it could be different,” Toews said after the team’s morning skate Saturday. “It could be surprising in some ways, but at the end of the day we know what they do well and what they don’t. We’ll try to capitalize on that.”

Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford also believed the Predators would be a tough match up.

“They’ve played really well all season,” Crawford said Saturday. “They’re a pretty well-rounded team. They’ve added a lot more offense, I think. Obviously, they’re great defensively. Their goalie [Pekka Rinne] is one of the best in the league.”

Predators forward James Neal scored five of his 23 goals this season against the Blackhawks. Marian Hossa had three goals, and Duncan Keith had four assists for the Blackhawks against the Predators this season. Rinne stopped 96-of-104 shots in three games against the Blackhawks this season, and Crawford made 55 saves on 60 shots in two games against the Predators this season.

The Blues clinched the Central Division earlier in the week and finished the season with 109 points. The Predators will finish in second place and have 104 points. They play the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. The Blackhawks have 102 points and close out the regular season against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.

UPDATE: The NHL released the schedules for its first-round playoff series late Saturday, with the Blackhawks set to open against the Predators on Wednesday night in Nashville. Game 2 is scheduled there Friday night before the series shifts to Chicago for Games 3 and 4 on April 19 and 21, respectively. Game 5, if necessary, would be April 23 at Nashville; Game 6, if necessary, April 25 in Chicago; and Game 7, if needed, April 27 in Nashville.

See full first-round details here.