Blackhawks and Canucks kick off their annual rivalry in Vancouver tonight

photo by Cheryl Adams / HockeyBroadOver the past four seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks have had one of the most heated and entertaining rivalries in hockey. The rivalry is even commemorated by the Canucks with a statue outside Rogers Arena dedicated to a famous moment in the 1982 Blackhawks-Canucks Western Conference Final.

Their rivalry goes back for many years, and has resurged lately, as the teams have faced each other multiple times in the playoffs. The Blackhawks managed to knock the Canucks out of a Cup run in 2009 and 2010; and in 2011, Vancouver beat Chicago in overtime in game 7 of an exciting first-round series.

The two teams will face each other only three times this season, twice in Vancouver and once in Chicago.

Vancouver has struggled so far out of the gate, their team hampered by injuries to some of their more prolific players such as Ryan Kesler and David Booth. Their PK is only 73.3%, and their goal production and power play production are both down from last year. In fact, their scoring is led by Zack Kassian, called up from the Chicago Wolves after the Lockout, with 5 goals, which puts him among the league leaders.

While several of the Canucks such as Kassian, Andrew Ebbett, and Christopher Tanev played for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL during the Lockout, only 3 of Vancouver's more established players spent time overseas. Cory Schneider spent several weeks with HC Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss league, and Jannik Hansen played two months in the SM-Liiga. Mason Raymond had signed with Orebro HK in one of the Swedish leagues shortly before the Lockout ended.

Perhaps this can explain Vancouver's tough start. They're starting to look better each game; on Wednesday, they shut out the Avalanche 3-0 with Roberto Luongo between the pipes.

photo by Cheryl Adams / HockeyBroadThe Canucks made headlines over the summer when Luongo requested a trade out of Vancouver. However, the team couldn't find a trade that interested them enough, and speculation rages on about the "goalie controversy" there, while Luongo and Cory Schneider work out this season as a 1A-1B tandem.

It has been announced that Luongo will be starting in goal for Vancouver; he will most likely face off against Corey Crawford in goal for Chicago.

Chicago heads into Vancouver coming off their first loss of the season, a shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild, at the start of their annual two week/six game "Disney on Ice trip".

The Blackhawks enjoy playing in Vancouver. Over the past four seasons, they've gone 4-3-1 in the regular season and 6-3-1 in the playoffs in Rogers Arena. During those games, they've outscored the Canucks 25-22 in regular season, and 39-25 in the playoffs.

When these two teams last met, it was in Chicago last March. Chicago won that game 2-1 in overtime with a goal from rookie Andrew Shaw. During the game, Daniel Sedin was injured by an elbow from Duncan Keith in the first period. Keith received a 5-game suspension for the hit; Sedin missed the rest of the season with concussion symptoms.

Twitter buzzed on Thursday, wondering if there would be any kind of retribution in this game for the hit: will the Canucks look to target Keith? The Canucks cannot afford to lose any players right now to suspensions; and the Blackhawks would not want to lose Keith, who is playing back at his Norris-winning 2009-2010 form.

Vancouver will seek to hand Chicago their first regulation loss; the Blackhawks will look to add another victory to their record against the Canucks. There is no doubt that tensions will run high. It should be an exciting evening of hockey.

* * *

GAME PREVIEW

Time:  9:00 p.m. CST

Blackhawks record: 6-0-1
Canucks record: 3-2-2

Location: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, B.C.

Where to watch: CSN-Chicago+, TSN, RDS2
Where to listen: WGN 720 (phone app available)

Next 2 games: Sat. 2/2 9pm CST @ Calgary; Tues. 2/5 9:30pm CST @ San Jose

Follow our Blackhawks writers at @TCLBlackhawks; you can follow me at @HockeyBroad