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Wednesday Night Rivalry

Athanasiou plays big role in Red Wings' surge

Rookie leads Detroit against Chicago's Kane in Wednesday Night Rivalry

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

Back in the days of the Original Six, the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings played as often as 14 times a season. Nowadays, they face each other twice. They'll play their two games this season in a span of five days, beginning with the Wednesday Night Rivalry game this week at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, TVA Sports).

The return match is Sunday in Chicago.

The Blackhawks are one of three teams battling for first place in the Central Division; the Red Wings are one of four clubs in the mix for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. The Blackhawks have dominated the tightly matched series in recent years; Chicago is 9-1-4 against Detroit since the start of the 2011-12 season, though eight of those games have been decided in overtime or a shootout.

As the Blackhawks and Red Wings keep pushing for first place, here are four players helping them in their pursuit:

Patrick Kane, RW, Blackhawks -- The runaway leader in the NHL scoring race continues to pile up points. Kane enters the game leading the League with 85 points, three shy of his career high and two fewer than the 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy winner, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, had all last season. He added to his career-high goals total by scoring No. 36 on Sunday in a 3-2 victory against the Washington Capitals and has seven points in his past five games.

Brent Seabrook, D, Blackhawks -- On a team of stars, Seabrook sometimes gets overlooked. But like Kane, he's already exceeded his single-season high for goals (12), and his 38 points are seven more than he had all last season. Seabrook plays more than 30 shifts a game and averages 23:02 of ice time, second on the Blackhawks behind Duncan Keith.

Andreas Athanasiou, C, Red Wings -- "He's lightning," was longtime Detroit star Pavel Datsyuk's description when asked about the rookie forward's speed after Athanasiou scored twice in a 3-2 overtime win at the Dallas Stars on Monday. Athanasiou's second goal, an inside-out move and nifty backhand shot in the third period, was a jaw-dropper. Athanasiou's speed also helped draw two penalties against the Stars, and he's made one of the NHL's fastest teams even faster.

Petr Mrazek, G, Red Wings -- He didn't play against Dallas because of a groin issue, but coach Jeff Blashill expects Mrazek to start against Chicago. That's good news for the Red Wings, because Mrazek is second in the NHL in goals-against average (2.10) and fourth in save percentage (.927). He is 6-1-2 in his past nine decisions and is perhaps the main reason the Red Wings are in the chase for the division title.

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