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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

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.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

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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Blackhawks injury updates: Drake Caggiula placed in concussion protocol for second time in a year

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USA Today

Blackhawks injury updates: Drake Caggiula placed in concussion protocol for second time in a year

LAS VEGAS — The Blackhawks announced Wednesday morning that Drake Caggiula will not play against the Vegas Golden Knights because of what they initially believed was an illness. But after further evaluation, the medical staff has placed the 25-year-old winger in concussion protocol.

"Just want to clarify," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He wasn’t feeling well this morning, now the doctors have evaluated him, we’re going to put him in concussion protocol. Obviously that changes things a little bit."

It's the second time in the calendar year Caggiula has been sidelined because of a concussion. He missed 13 games last season, suffering the injury on Feb. 22 against the Anaheim Ducks.

It's unclear what may have happened this time around and when it occurred, but the Blackhawks are playing it safe, as they should.

"There are some symptoms," Colliton said, "so we want to be sure."

Caggiula has four points (one goal, three assists) in 15 games this season. He promoted to the first line during Tuesday's practice, so it's unfortunate timing for both Caggiula and the Blackhawks, who are 2-0-1 in their last three games.

Connor Murphy on track to return Saturday

One day after practicing for the first time since reaggravating a groin injury on Oct. 22, Murphy traveled with the Blackhawks to Vegas and is on track to return Saturday against the Nashville Predators, which is when he's eligible to come off long-term injured reserve.

"It looks good," Colliton said. "I think when he comes off, we’ll make an evaluation, we’ll see what our lineup looks like hopefully. But I don’t think there’s much point in making that call until game day."

With Murphy set to return soon, the Blackhawks must make a corresponding move to become cap compliant, even though they have one spot open on their 23-man roster. As of Wednesday, the Blackhawks have $2,979,958 in cap space, according to Cap Friendly. Murphy's remaining daily cap hit of $2,980,645 barely exceeds that.

Adam Boqvist is the obvious candidate to be reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, but not because of performance-based reasons. It just wouldn't make sense for the Blackhawks to carry eight defensemen and stunt his growth by rotating him in and out of the lineup.

Corey Crawford shakes off injury scare

There was a mini injury scare during Wednesday's morning skate in Vegas. Crawford tried making a save from right to left and hyperextended his left leg on the post. He stayed down for a few seconds then removed himself from the crease to collect himself but stayed on the ice for the remainder of the skate.

Crawford told NBC Sports Chicago afterwards that he's fine and will make his scheduled start against the Golden Knights. He is 1-0-2 with a .929 save percentage in three starts this month.

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

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USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis break down the changes made to the Hawks defensive zone coverage (1:50) and Patrick Kane’s current points streak (7:30). They also discuss how most of the players that have been scratched recently have had bounce-back efforts (11:20), as well as the improved play of Erik Gustafsson (18:12) and both special teams units (20:16). Plus, the debut of “Checkpoint Charlie," where Charlie gives us a taste of life on the road and his encounter with Chris Rock’s brother (29:00).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

 

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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