In its heyday, the "Original Six" teams were defined by their rivalries with one another and their frequent battles, both in the regular season and the playoffs. In the expansion era, however, matchups between the Blackhawks and many of the Eastern Conference teams have been hard to come by. Wednesday’s game against the Rangers marks the first time since March 9, 2012, that New York has paid a visit to the United Center, and just the fourth time this decade that the two teams have clashed. The squads will face off once more in February, when the Blackhawks visit Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27.
Though both Chicago and New York feature some All-Star caliber players on offense, either team can easily win a battle with defense. Both teams boast top-10 records in the league when scoring first, and New York’s penalty-kill unit, which has successfully completed 85 percent of its assignments, is good for sixth in the NHL. Boasting the likes of Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto, the Rangers’ defensive corps is one of the league’s more balanced blue lines, and could prove a true test for Blackhawks forwards tonight.
Tonight’s game will be both team’s first since all 2014 Olympic rosters were announced, and many of the teams’ top players will head to Sochi this February to play for gold. From the Blackhawks, 10 players were named to their countries’ rosters, including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa. New York will send a contingent of Rick Nash (CAN), Mats Zuccarello (NOR), Henrik Lundqvist, Carl Hagelin (SWE), McDonagh, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan (USA).
Regardless of who starts for the Rangers on Wednesday, the Blackhawks will have a tough task; They will face either former reigning Vezina Trophy winner Lundqvist, who has not put up his normal superior stats this year, but is always a threat, or 26-year-old rookie Cam Talbot, who has recorded a 1.66 goals-against average this season in 14 appearances.
On the Blackhawks' end, Corey Crawford will get the call in the crease. Crow took the 3-2 shootout loss to San Jose on Sunday despite making a season-high 40 saves through regulation and overtime.
Although this will be his first time facing the Blackhawks as the Rangers bench boss, Alain Vigneault is no stranger to Chicago fans. Vigneault spent seven seasons coaching the Vancouver Canucks, a tenure that included three postseason matchups between 2009 and 2011. While his players may not have seen Chicago much recently, there is no doubt their coach is well-acquainted with the Blackhawks’ style and players.
Although the Rangers aren’t the same team that played for the Eastern Conference title a couple of years ago, they still boast one of the more talented defensive units in the game and enough firepower up front to force you to take them seriously. Add into the mix two goaltenders, both of whom are capable of stealing a game, and this should make for a great Original Six matchup.