Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Flyers challenge top-ranked Blackhawks

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Philadelphia Flyers will head to the United Center to take on the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also¬†watch the game online.

A lot has changed since the Flyers and Blackhawks met in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

When Chicago won it all that year, they went forward with the goal of preserving their core as best possible despite their salary cap problems and were rewarded with another championship last season. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has been trying to reinvent itself and that hasn’t gone nearly as well.

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The Flyers weren’t able to even make the playoffs following the shortened campaign and they haven’t looked great this season despite dramatically changing their goaltending and adding veterans Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit. It looks like Philadelphia’s bold moves are no longer having the desired effect.

They are averaging just 2.23 goals per game despite their numerous offensive threats. The silver lining is that if they find a way to click, as they have done at times this season, they would be a true contender.

It helps that goaltender Steve Mason has been a high point of the Flyers’ 2013-14 campaign while former Blackhawks netminder Ray Emery has held his own as the team’s backup.

Right now goaltending might be the one area where the Flyers actually have the edge over Chicago. The Blackhawks’ top two goaltenders, Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin, are both dealing with lower-body injuries and won’t be available tonight. That puts the pressure on 24-year-old Antti Raanta and 21-year-old Kent Simpson. Raanta is the only one with any NHL experience (seven contests) while the two have a played in just 32 combined AHL games.

Raanta was in net last night, which means there’s a good chance that Simpson will make his NHL debut against Philadelphia.

At least he’s likely to have plenty of support. In contrast to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have the best offense in the league with an average of 3.58 goals per contest. Patrick Kane became just the second player to reach the 40-point mark with his three-point performance on Tuesday. On top of that, even Chicago’s fifth best goal scorer, Brandon Saad, has found the back of the net more often than any Philadelphia player.

It’s easy to see who the favorite is tonight, but if the Flyers want to get back to the level that they were at in 2010, they have to steal points in contests against seemingly better opponents. Perhaps that’s what will happen tonight.