Watch as the Blackhawks take on the New York Rangers tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.
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Five Things to Watch:
1. Best in the West vs. best in the East?
The Blackhawks and Rangers square off tonight as two of the best teams in the league, with each at or near the top of their respective conferences in the standings. The Rangers are two points away from first place in the East, but own the best goal differential of any team at plus-29. The Blackhawks sit atop the West with 37 points and have the second-best goal differential in the West at plus-10. Still a long, long way to go, but perhaps an early Stanley Cup Final preview?
2. Four stars sidelined.
The Blackhawks are already without Corey Crawford and Jonathan Toews due to injuries, and now Brent Seabrook has been added to the list. Luckily for the Blackhawks, they have a surplus of defensemen and won't have a problem finding a guy prepared to step in. But Seabrook is irreplaceable on and off the ice, and he's been really good on it this season. For the Rangers, Rick Nash is out with a groin injury while Jimmy Vesey was scratched last night due to an upper-body injury, making his status unknown for tonight. Lots of firepower will be watching the game from the press box.
3. Jimmy Vesey.
Speaking of Vesey, the Blackhawks went all-out for the reigning Hobey Baker Award as college's top player in the offseason by including Patrick Kane in their recruiting pitch. Vesey's decision reportedly came down to the Blackhawks and Rangers — and it sounded like Chicago was the frontrunner — but he ended up choosing to stay closer to home by picking New York. He's made an immediate impact, scoring nine goals and adding seven assists in 27 games. Three of those goals have been game-winners. If he plays (he's battling an upper-body injury, as mentioned above), it will be interesting to see the reception he gets from the United Center crowd when he steps onto the ice — although it's possible he doesn't get one at all.
4. Scott Darling vs. Antti Raanta.
Former Blackhawks netminder Antti Raanta has been sensational for the Rangers this season, owning a 6-1-0 record with a 2.05 goals against average and .932 save percentage. He's going to get his second straight start, and will do so at the United Center, where he has a lifetime record of 14-0-3 and a .942 save percentage. It will be his first start against his former team since being traded to New York in June 2015, and he'll do it against Darling, who he lost his backup job to during that year that ended in a Stanley Cup. The last time — and only time — Darling faced the Rangers, he earned his first career NHL shutout when he stopped all 25 shots en route to a 1-0 victory in March 2015. It will surely be a fun matchup to watch.
5. Limit quality chances.
The Rangers have been a dangerous team offensively this season, scoring the most goals of any team with 99. That's good for 3.54 goals per game. They've been successful in that area because of the contributions they're getting from up and down the lineup, highlighted by Michael Grabner's team-leading 13 goals. The Rangers average only 28.4 shots per game, which ranks fifth-worst, but their shooting percentage at even strength is far and away the best in the league at an astonishing 11.39. Watch out for those quality shots.
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