High-scoring lines face off when Predators meet Blackhawks
CHICAGO (AP) Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg helped power Nashville into the playoffs with a dazzling finish to the season. Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin piled up points for Chicago down the stretch, and Artem Anisimov is set to return from a left leg injury.
Two of the NHL's most dangerous lines face off when the Predators take on the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, beginning with Game 1 on Thursday night in Chicago. The production of those potent trios could go a long way to determining which team advances to the Western Conference semifinals.
''I think our confidence is high,'' Forsberg said Wednesday. ''The last part of the season I think we've been playing really good hockey and obviously produced against any team, really. So it's going to be a lot of fun and excited to get going, and hopefully we can be a key factor in the series.''
Since Dec. 26, Forsberg ranks third in the NHL with 26 of his 31 goals. Kane is tied for fourth with 24 goals in that stretch, and Arvidsson is tied for ninth with 22. Arvidsson, who just turned 24 on Saturday, set career highs with 30 goals and 31 assists, and Johansen led the Predators with a career-best 47 assists.
Like all great lines, Forsberg, Johansen and Arvidsson can hurt opponents in a variety of ways.
''You got the speedy little shifty guy in Arvidsson that's everywhere and he's a good goal-scorer, too,'' Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. ''You reach the 30-goal mark, which is really tough to do in this league, and then you have Forsberg that's just a pure sniper, that you don't really notice him that much every game, but then he gets one chance and he just buries it right away. So you just have to be focused every single shift against that guy, and Johansen is a great playmaker.''
Nashville dropped four of five against Chicago this season, but its top line had some success. Johansen had seven assists in the season series, Arvidsson scored three times and Forsberg had a goal and two assists.
''I just think in general, with the top lines, you want to play in the other team's end as much as you can,'' Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. ''Skilled offensive players are going to want to play offense and be on the attack, so if we can keep them in their own end, force them to play defense, it's better off for us.''
Anisimov was working on a career year when he got hurt in the first period of a 4-2 win at Montreal on March 14, shelving the big center for the rest of the season. He had to be helped from the ice after Canadiens forward Alexander Radulov fell on the back of his leg in a corner behind the Chicago goal.
The 28-year-old Anisimov started skating again about a week ago and said he is ready to go for the playoffs. He gives the Blackhawks a big, physical presence in front of the net, an ideal center for the flashy skills of Kane and Panarin.
''With Artie, I think we're comfortable with him,'' Kane said. ''We're comfortable with a lot of players, but at the same time it seems like we're had the most success with him.''
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Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but it lost to St. Louis in the first round last season. The Blackhawks rallied from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 in St. Louis, but the Blues advanced with a 3-2 win.
''We still think about it,'' goaltender Corey Crawford said. ''Our goal is to win a championship every year. When you don't, you have that hunger to get back there.''
The Blackhawks eliminated the Predators in the first round of the playoffs in 2010 and 2015. The Predators blew leads of 3-0 in Game 1 and 3-1 in Game 6 of the 2015 series.
''I love the way we played Chicago,'' coach Peter Laviolette said of the most recent series. ''I just hated the result. I hated the fact that we lost in six games.''
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Since Joel Quenneville took over as coach in 2008, the Blackhawks have won 10 of 11 playoff series when they had home-ice advantage. They went 26-10-5 at home this season.
Nashville forwards Colin Wilson and Calle Jarnkrok each missed practice on Wednesday with lower-body injuries. They are questionable for Game 1.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee contributed to this report.
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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap