NHL on NBCSN: Red Wings test themselves vs. Hawks on Rivalry Night

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Wednesday’s Rivalry Night coverage on NBCSN will feature a doubleheader. It will start with the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Although they’re on a modest three-game losing streak, it’s fair to say that the Red Wings have exceeded expectations so far this season with their 31-14-10 record. Once regarded as more of a playoff bubble team, they have an opportunity to not only advance to the postseason, but also secure the home ice advantage in the first round.

This isn’t the time of year for a squad to appreciate what they’ve already accomplished though. The Red Wings need to show that they can do even better as the intensity of the game increases.

“We need to elevate now, the league’s picked up the pace and we have to have our players pick up as well,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told the Detroit News. “You have to find a way to win games, it’s just that simple.”

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This upcoming six-game road trip will be a great test for them and tonight’s contest against Chicago should be particularly telling. The Red Wings will be facing a team full of past Stanley Cup winners and playoff veterans as well as an old rival that shared a division with them just two years ago.

In contrast to Detroit, the Blackhawks have been hot lately with a 4-0-2 record in their past six games. However with the Nashville Predators surging, the Blackhawks need to stay at the top of their game if they want to win the Central Division. As it is, Chicago is 10 points behind Nashville and four points shy of St. Louis.

This contest could be determined by special teams as Detroit has been by far the best squad in the league with its 26.0% power-play success rate, but it will be up again the NHL’s top penalty kill (87.9%). Chicago has been even better than normal in shorthanded situations lately as the squad as allowed just one power-play goal in seven games this month. Meanwhile, the Red Wings have scored with the man advantage in five of their last six contests.

This game will also feature an intriguing X-factor in Teemu Pulkkinen, the AHL’s leading scorer (30-27-57, 44 GP). He was called up by Detroit on Tuesday and is projected to play alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Pulkkinen also had a stint with Detroit in January, but he was relatively quiet in limited playing time. This time could be different though.

“He’s shown he’s very, very good in the American Hockey League,” Babcock said, per the team’s website. “You’re always looking for goals. We’re always looking to improve our roster. If he can help us, he’s got to take someone’s job, just like everyone else. We have lots of guys coming up, some stay and some don’t. We think Pulkky is a real good player. … Let’s give him an opportunity to be a real good player.”

A strong game against a team like Chicago would certainly go a long way towards showing that he’s ready to stay at this level.