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Last NHL playoff series to start offers welcome rest, healing time for both Predators, Hawks

NASHVILLE - Fans can hardly wait for the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks to start the post-season.

For the players, the delay of Game 1 until Friday is a welcome rest.

No. 2 seed Chicago wrapped up the regular season playing five games in eight days with its final game Sunday, while seventh-seeded Nashville played 17 games in March - most in the Western Conference. Their first-round opening series will be the NHL's last to hit the ice.

"It's not bad for us," Chicago left wing Andrew Ladd said. "We had a lot of guys in the Olympics, and they could use four or five days to get refreshed."

This gap is the longest since training camp for the six Blackhawks and seven Predators who played through the Olympic break - all making the medal round. Of those, Chicago had four playing in the gold medal game with Patrick Kane facing off against his Canadian teammates Jonathan Toews and defencemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

Only defencemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter played in that game for Nashville with Weber taking home gold. Then it was back to work with both teams playing again March 2.

Nashville coach Barry Trotz thinks the mental grind was tough for those who went from the gold-medal game back to just another NHL regular season game.

"That's almost like getting sent to the minors in a sense because of the intensity and the quality of play," he said. "That was as high as you're ever going to see probably just because of the talent level and the execution level and the intensity level and all that. That's an adrenaline rush, and then a crash. You've got to get up again."

Suter played a game-high 31 minutes, 31 seconds in that gold medal game.

"The mind is probably the biggest thing," said Suter, who was given a rare day off on Monday. "You need your body. It is what it is. Injuries are what they are. To get your mind back refreshed, it makes you feel good."

The Predators are as healthy as they have ever been now going into their fifth playoff series in six seasons. Right wing Patric Hornqvist, who missed the regular season finale after being hit by a Weber slap shot on April 7, is expected to be ready for Game 1. The delay also means defenceman Denis Grebeshkov, who got hurt March 7 when hit by a puck, might be available Sunday.

A few of the Blackhawks will also benefit from the delayed start of the series.

The extra time off has helped Chicago right wing Troy Brouwer's conditioning. He missed the final four games of the regular season because his father was hospitalized in Vancouver.

"It's nice I get these extra couple of days to get a few practices in and get the legs going," Brouwer said.

And though defenceman Brian Campbell won't play Friday, he did practice on Wednesday for the first time since breaking a collarbone and rib March 14 when hit by Washington's Alex Ovechkin. He won't play Friday.

With Chicago's hectic stretch run to end the regular season, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville says the delay gives his team a chance to catch their breath.

"It puts us in a spot we should (use) this time to refresh ourselves and get excited about starting," Quenneville said. "The schedule is the way it is and you have to deal with it. Once you get into the series, it's kind of the way you expected, every other day. So we'll be busy. We hope we can take advantage of the rest."

Nashville had hoped for a quick start to the playoffs, trying to take advantage of a schedule that had the Predators play only two games in the final week. Now they hope to turn the delayed start into a positive.

"It's a good chance for us to get some good practices in," Weber said. "The schedule we had in March was pretty hectic. There wasn't a lot of good, hard practices like we've had. I think that's helping us and will be a good way to go into Friday."


AP Sports Writer Rick Gano in Chicago contributed to this report.



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