Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Hawks visit Detroit to face old foe

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Chicago Blackhawks will head to Joe Louis Arena to take on the Detroit Red Wings at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The days of the Red Wings and Blackhawks competing for the Central Division title are over. They’ve faced each other in the playoffs in two of the last five years and their Conference Semifinals series in 2013 went to seven games.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s just $5 to join and first prize is $200. Starts Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

With Detroit switching conferences, this represents just the first of two contests between these squads in 2013-14 and if they are to face each other again in the postseason, it would have to be in the Stanley Cup Final. All of that suggests their past rivalry will diminish and perhaps it will in time, but the memories of the fiercely fought games are still fresh in the minds of the players and the coaches.

So for now, playing in only two games just means that the stakes have been raised.

“Everyone will be into it to a different level than anyone we play, and we’ll be revisiting a great seven-game series that could’ve gone either way,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told CSN Chicago. “Knowing we play only once a year in each building, we can still bring back the intensity that’s been in that rivalry for a long time.”

As is the case on almost any given night, the Blackhawks will enter this contest as the favorites. They are a team of few weaknesses and their offensive might is unparalleled. With 31 games remaining in their schedule, they already have three different 20-goal scorers and five players that have recorded at least 40 points.

By contrast the Red Wings’ top scorer is Henrik Zetterberg, who has 15 goals and 39 points this season. Of course, he’s been limited to just 38 contests as almost no one in Detroit has been spared from the injury bug.

Only two players on the Red Wings’ roster have participated in all 49 of their games (Drew Miller and Kyle Quincey). They are likely to enter tonight’s contest without forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson, Johan Franzen, Stephen Weiss, and goaltender Jimmy Howard. Given everything Detroit has been through, it’s impressive that the team is still in the running for a Wild Card spot.

It’s clear which squad has the edge on paper, but in the thick of a playoff race and in a rare meeting against an old rival, Detroit isn’t going to let this one slip by without a fight.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.