"I think the game on Dec. 30 will be no different -- it'll be a high-scoring affair and fast-paced just like every other game between these teams."
-- Patrick Kane
The prelude to the most anticipated game of the season on New Year's Day at Wrigley Field will actually take place two days earlier.
That's when the Chicago Blackhawks
pay a visit to Joe Louis Arena to battle their Central Division nemesis in what many will dub a preview of the big one to be staged outdoors.
But according to Blackhawks wing Patrick Kane
, the 700th meeting between the Original Six combatants Dec. 30 will offer just as many chills and thrills as the Winter Classic confrontation Jan. 1.
"I've actually been thinking about (the Dec. 30) game," Kane said. "You don't really know if it's going to be a totally different game; if players are going to be overlooking it for the Jan. 1 game. Every time the Blackhawks and Red Wings meet, it seems to be a great game. The series has always been high scoring and really close."
Kane has a point. The two meetings this season were decided via shootout. Pavel Datsyuk
scored the decisive shootout goal in a 5-4 game on Dec. 6 in Detroit, and Marian Hossa
slammed home the winner in a 6-5 contest Oct. 25 in Chicago.
"Having these teams play on Jan. 1 is just what the fans want to see," Kane said. "They want to see an up-tempo game with a lot of goals and skill. Having two fast teams meet will be good for the League. I think the game on Dec. 30 will be no different -- it'll be a high-scoring affair and fast-paced just like every other game between these teams."
Chicago's second-year prodigy is steadfast in his belief the teams won't hold anything back Dec. 30 and for good reason -- just five points separate Central Division-leading Detroit and second-place Chicago.
"Every game against the Wings is important, especially since we're chasing them right now and they probably see us in the rear-view mirror," Kane said. "If we can take both of those games from them, it'll obviously be huge for us."
Kane is first on his team and fourth in the NHL with 37 points on 14 goals and 23 assists. Captain Jonathan Toews
, who is also in his second season in the League, has accrued 8 goals and 23 points.
Kane, who was drafted first overall in 2007 and captured the Calder Trophy after leading all rookies last season with 72 points (21 goals), admits feeling more confident.
"I don't want to say this season is easier than last year because it's never easy, but I think the right word is confidence," Kane said. "I'm more comfortable carrying the puck and making plays and trying different things."
The Hawks, who are the NHL's youngest team at an average age of 25.3, also rank third in the League with a team plus-minus rating of plus-21.
Rookie forwards Kris Versteeg
and Troy Brouwer
have also added some pop to the lineup. Versteeg has 8 goals and 24 points and Brouwer, who plays on a line with Kane and Patrick Sharpe, has 5 goals and 13 points.
"So far Brouwer has been great ever since he's been called up and you feel good for the kid because he's been working really hard to get to the NHL and it finally seems like he made it, so I'm really glad for him," Kane said.
Despite the recent success, Kane knows Detroit will certainly be ready. He has a great deal of respect for the defending Stanley Cup champion.
"Some say the best players on winning teams are the best players in the playoffs and when you watched the Red Wings last season, it was no different," Kane said. "It was so much fun to watch guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk last season during their Cup run. It was fun to see a team with so much skill win, where, in the past it's been teams like the Ducks who were kind of real physical and had a couple big lines that dominated down low. As a skilled player, it's fun to see a team like the Wings win with so much skill and prove it can be done in this League."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.