Blackhawks Prepare to Battle Blueshirts

It's difficult to remember that it's understandable for a team to lose an important game against a significant divisional opponent at this point in the regular season, as everyone is vying for playoff position and overall points in the standings. 

What might be more disconcerting is who the loss are coming against. The Blackhawks previous dismantling at the hand of the St. Louis Blues did not leave many fans with much confidence in the Hawks' ability to match the gameplay and competitiveness of a league leading team, like the Blues or, in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers. 

The Chicago Blackhawks will face the "beasts of the east" in the Rangers for the second time this season, after they easily dispatching them in surprising fashion at Madison Square Garden by a final score of 4-2 and ended up snapping their horrendous nine-game losing streak. 

The Blackhawks received some good news about their captain, Jonathan Toews, who does not appear to be far off from returning, provided he continues progressing without concussion-like symptoms.

Defenseman Sami Lepisto, on the other hand, will be out indefinitely with a left leg injury, which may not be horrible timing as Niklas Hjalmarsson appears close to a return to the blue line and is hopeful for tonight's game against New York. Fellow defenseman Steve Montador, does not appear close to a return from injury as of now. 

Despite the Hawks recent loss to the St. Louis Blues, Chicago's victory over the Rangers at home about a month ago was certainly no walk in the park and gave them a lot of confidence in their following games. It's going to take an even better effort against the Rangers tonight as New York is one of the best road teams in the NHL. 

Chicago will need to keep improving their power play in this last stretch of the season if they're going to have any success in the playoffs. It's not quite as bad as it once was, but both their power play and penalty kill remain in the bottom fourth of the league in efficiency.

Chicago, does benefit, however, in that the Rangers have the second worst power play in the league, clicking at 14% efficiency. In contrast, though, the Rangers are fifth in the NHL on the penalty kill, which does not bode well for a struggling Chicago power play. 

Chicago goaltender, Ray Emery, figures to get the start for the Blackhawks, as he has played well over his last five starts, with the exception of the game in St. Louis, where no one in a Chicago jersey played well. One can also assume New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will also start after getting the night off yesterday against the Ottawa Senators.

With several teams in neighboring western divisions, the Blackhawks are not as close to panic mode as it may seem. However, with fewer and fewer games remaining, the majority of which comes against teams in playoff position, their focus on a nightly basis will be imperative to keeping their playoff hopes alive.

Despite the fact that the Hawks have a four and five point lead on Phoenix and San Jose, respectively, who currently occupy the final seventh and eighth western playoff spots, there are four other teams close enough to make the playoffs depending on how they fare in the last stretch of their regular season schedule.

It's going to be a dog fight right down to the finish. 

Watch tonight's game on CSN-Chicago or on MSG Plus at 7:30 pm CT. 

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