1. NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
The last time the Rangers and Blackhawks met, Chicago’s third Stanley Cup in six years was still fresh in the minds of players and fans alike. It was opening night of the 2015-16 season, which began with the raising of the 2015 Stanley Cup championship banner to the rafters of the United Center. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, the night ended with a 3-2 Rangers victory after the visitors scored three times in the first period. Both teams have gone on to have successful seasons: New York has a 32-18-6 record (70 points) and trails only Washington in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Blackhawks have posted a 37-18-5 record (79) and were tied with Dallas atop the Central heading into Tuesday’s schedule, although the Stars had three games in hand. Wednesday’s tilt will not only be a rematch, it’ll also be a measuring stick for two teams with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations.
2. RACE TO THE ROSS
Patrick Kane is coming off his third four-point game of the season against Toronto on Monday, and the winger now has nine points in the seven games since captaining the Central Division at the All-Star Game in Nashville. One of those four points was his 400th career assist, and he now has 34 goals and 48 helpers for a league-high 82 points, 18 ahead of last year’s Art Ross winner, Jamie Benn. Kane, who is looking to become the first American-born player to claim the trophy awarded to the league’s regular-season points leader, is already six points shy of tying his career high of 88. Kane’s consistency sticks out over his nine-year career, with 639 points in 636 regular-season games, which has now surpassed Bobby Hull for second all-time in franchise history through his first nine seasons. Kane has played nine career games against the Rangers, tallying three goals and four assists, including a helper in the season opener.
3. DEPTH CHARGE
In addition to Kane, Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw also had multi-point nights against the Maple Leafs. However, it’s the offensive depth that that both players and coaches were happy to see on Monday. Brandon Mashinter started the scoring with his third goal of the year just 2:33 into the game. Later, with the Blackhawks having built a 5-0 lead, Teuvo Teravainen became the eighth Blackhawk to reach double figures in goals this season; his power-play tally in the third period was his first point in 10 games and first goal in 17. Teravainen’s goal was followed up 1:41 later by defenseman Viktor Svedberg’s second career goal. A total of 11 Blackhawks got on the scoreboard against Toronto, something Head Coach Joel Quenneville would love to see continue on Wednesday against a more defensively sound team in the Rangers.
4. INJURY BUG
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh has missed three games after suffering a concussion in Philadelphia that forced him to leave the game after six shifts. The defenseman took part in a full practice Tuesday and said he feels ready to play, though Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault said he would make his decision on McDonagh’s playing status on Wednesday morning. Prior to the injury, McDonagh had put up nine points in his last 11 games. If he doesn’t play, the Rangers could be thin on defense as Dan Boyle missed Tuesday’s practice while battling the flu. One player we know for sure won’t be in the lineup is Rick Nash. The power forward is battling a bone bruise and hasn’t played since Jan. 22. Nash, who was traded in 2012 from Columbus to New York in exchange for Artem Anisimov (among other players), is officially listed as week-to-week.
5. CAGE MATCH
For the last 11 years, playing the New York Rangers has almost certainly meant battling Henrik Lundquist. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner is two wins shy of reaching 30 wins for the 10th time in his career (he had 24 wins during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season). Lundquist, named the NHL’s Second Star last week, ranks in the top five league-wide in games played (47), wins (28), goals allowed (106), saves (1,284) and total minutes played (2,777). The three-time All-Star, who is coming off his fifth consecutive victory, has won 10 of his last 13 starts, and he’s allowed two or fewer goals 11 times during that stretch. On the other side of the ice, Corey Crawford will be searching for his first win in three starts. The two-time Stanley Cup winner is second in the league with 31 wins, four behind Washington’s Braden Holtby. Should Crawford pick up the win on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, he’d be one shy of tying his career high of 33 victories in a season with 21 games remaining.
THE FINAL WORD
Even though the Blackhawks tied a season high with seven goals and won by five on Monday night, there is plenty to improve on. Chicago spent a lot of time in its own zone and posted a -18 even-strength shot attempt differential (per hockeystats.ca). As they have almost all season, the Blackhawks relied on standout goaltending, as Scott Darling made 35 saves, nullifying the team’s lackluster possession game. The bright spot was a highly efficient power play, which converted four times for the first time since 2010; those four tallies with the man advantage matched their total from Jan. 17-Feb. 13. Even if they can continue finding the mark on special teams, the Blackhawks must improve their puck management at even strength on Wednesday to compete against a Rangers team that averages 2.86 goals per game, fifth-most in the NHL.