NHL on NBCSN: Stakes high for Kings, ‘Hawks tonight

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight as the Chicago Blackhawks host the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center, with coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

Starting with the 2009-10 campaign, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have set the standard that the rest of the NHL has been trying to follow. Both squads have captured the Stanley Cup twice over the previous five seasons and they’ve appropriately squared off in the last two Western Conference Finals. Chicago took the first series while the Kings captured the second.

Both squads might end up excelling once again in the playoffs, but so far the season hasn’t gone as they planned.

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Chicago likely anticipated that St. Louis would make for a tough Central Division rival in 2014-15, but the rise of the Nashville Predators has left Chicago in third place. The Blackhawks still have a chance to close the three-point gap between them and the Blues to secure the home-ice advantage in the first round, but at the same time, the Minnesota Wild have been very dangerous since goaltender Devan Dubnyk joined them in mid-January and at this point they’re threatening to surpass Chicago, which would leave the Blackhawks with a Wild Card spot instead.

The Kings can attest to the effectiveness of the Wild. They lost 4-1 to Minnesota on Saturday and the Kings are going into this game one point shy of a playoff spot as a result. It would naturally be a big disappointment for Los Angeles if the defending Stanley Cup champions didn’t even secure a postseason berth, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter wants to set the bar higher than simply making the playoffs.

“Everybody’s trying to make the playoffs,” Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “We still have the opportunity to get home ice, as ‘desperate’ as we are. We still have the opportunity to go home in two weeks, so it’s one of the two. You’re not going to get a wild-card spot. The wild-card’s out of the picture.”

The Vancouver Canucks occupy the second seed in the Pacific Division and are three points ahead of Los Angeles, so while the Kings certainly still have a shot at that spot, they likely need to be nearly perfect for the remainder of the season to accomplish that goal.

In other words, the stakes are high tonight for both of these former playoff rivals.