As this series finally creeps toward Game 1 on Friday, both teams find themselves looking to make a breakthrough. But the Predators' idea of taking the next step isn't necessarily the same as the that of the Blackhawks.
Nashville goes into this Western Conference quarterfinal with an 0-for-4 record in the franchise's four previous playoff appearances. The Predators were twice bounced in the first round as eighth seeds by top-seeded Detroit squads, and twice knocked off as a No. 4 seed by fifth-seeded San Jose clubs.
Needless to say, the Preds are more ready to learn what life is like in Round Two of the post-season.
"There are a lot of guys in this room that have been part of four "1-and-outs", so I think there's a lot of motivation to get out of the first round," said Preds defenceman Dan Hamhuis, who's played in every Nashville post-season contest.
"I think this franchise has gotten to the point where getting to the playoffs isn't a goal anymore. That's just one step. Our goal is to go deep in the playoffs."
On paper, the Predators don't look as if they have much of a chance of taking that next step this season. Chicago finished 12 points ahead of Nashville in the standings, posted a 4-2 record against the Predators during the season and piled up 46 more goals than the Preds.
But Nashville feels battle-tested as it readies for the postseason. The Predators went 14-6-1 since the Olympic break and has produced a 14-0-1 record in their last 15 one-goal contests.
"Guys want to win and win bad," Predators forward Jerred Smithson told The Tennessean. "We owe it to the city of Nashville here to go deep into the playoffs. We've had great teams in the past and choked. It's unacceptable anymore. I think this year will be different."
The Blackhawks aren't looking past the Predators in the first round, but after reaching the Western Conference finals last season, Chicago is looking for a trip to the Stanley Cup finals to validate its outstanding regular season.
"We've been building each year," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told The Chicago Sun Times. "We've improved a number of years in a row. We want to build on that this year, and we'll go from there. We're in a process, and hopefully we're going to take that next step in the process."
Chicago's strong playoff run last season, the additions of proven vets like John Madden and Marian Hossa during the offseason, and the Hawks' 112-point season this year certainly have produced higher expectations - and perhaps a little more pressure - on the team this season.
"We want to bring the big trophy in at the end of the year," forward Patrick Kane told Chicago media at the end of the regular season.
Predators forward Patric Hornqvist, who led Nashville with 30 goals, went through his second straight full practice on Thursday and should return to the lineup on Friday. He missed the last game of the regular season with an upper-body injury.
Defenceman Denis Grebeshkov, who's been out since March 7 with a groin injury, is practising again. He probably won't play in Game 1, but could get the nod for the second game of the series on Sunday.
On the Chicago side of the ledger, defenceman Brian Campbell, who has missed the past month with a broken clavicle and rib, is getting closer to returning. He won't play in Game 1, but will likely see action in the series.
Things aren't as promising for defenceman Kim Johnsson, who hasn't played since suffering a concussion on March 13. There's still no timetable on his return.