NHL on NBCSN: Best offense faces top defense in Hawks vs Kings

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Chicago and Los Angeles faced each other in the 2013 Western Conference finals and both seem poised to make serious runs for the Stanley Cup again this season.

They proved that they have what it takes after the Kings won it all in 2012 and the Blackhawks followed suit in 2013, but it’s not their past accomplishments that make these teams intimidating.

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Los Angeles is the hardest team in the league to score against, despite the fact that Jonathan Quick hasn’t played since Nov. 12 due to a groin injury. Rookie goalie Martin Jones has done a particularly great job in Quick’s absence with his 8-1-0 record, 1.31 GAA, and .953 save percentage in nine games. The team’s defense deserves a fair amount of credit too.

They’ll have to keep that up though, because while the Kings have the best defense in the league, the Blackhawks are leading the charge offensively. Forwards Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp have a combined 45 goals and 94 points in 41 contests this season, but Chicago has plenty of depth too as eight different players have recorded at least 20 points and six are already in double-digits in terms of goals.

Chicago also dominates with the man advantage and that might burn the Kings tonight as they’ve been one of the league’s least discipline teams this season.

Getting out of the gate running will also be important. Chicago is 16-0-2 this season when it’s leading through 20 minutes. That was the case in these squads’ first meeting on Dec. 15. The Blackhawks earned a 3-1 victory on the strength of a strong first period. At the same time, the Kings are nearly as impressive with their 13-1-2 record in games where they’re up going into the second frame.

Like the Kings, Chicago has been excelling despite the absence of their top goaltender. Corey Crawford (lower body) is progressing, but isn’t likely to be available tonight, so the Blackhawks will probably go with 24-year-old rookie Antti Raanta instead. He’s been solid, but is coming off of a rough 6-5 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

After that setback, Raanta is one of the bigger X-Factors, but in a contest between two deep teams led by stars, there’s any number of players that could potentially take charge of this game and steal the show. Only time will tell if this match is a playoff preview, but it is at the least a contest between top tiered teams.