It's no surprise that the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are among the best teams in the league this season. What might come as one is that the Central Division rivals have yet to face each other.
The Blackhawks and Red Wings will have that first meeting of the season Friday night at the United Center as well as two more by mid-January.
After struggling to make the playoffs a season ago, Chicago (23-10-4) is contending for the Presidents' Trophy and Detroit (23-12-1) is not far behind.
That could make for plenty of intrigue in the six-game season series, which may go a long way toward determining the division champion. The date of this matchup ties the latest for a first meeting between the Original Six rivals during a full season.
The Blackhawks faced the then-Detroit Cougars for the first time in 1928-29 on Dec. 30, but that season began in mid-November. Chicago opened the abbreviated 1994-95 campaign with a 4-1 loss in Detroit on Jan. 20.
The Blackhawks enter this game 13-3-3 at the United Center but had a season-best five-game home win streak snapped Wednesday with a 2-0 loss to Los Angeles.
"We didn't play a bad game, but (the Kings) wanted it," captain Jonathan Toews said. "They had that desire out there. We just didn't match that."
Chicago has scored 67 goals at home, tied for the second-most in the league and three behind Detroit. The Blackhawks had outscored opponents 20-7 during their five-game run on Madison Street.
The Red Wings are 9-10-0 away from home but have won four of five in Chicago, including a 4-3 victory April 10 in last season's finale which nearly denied the Blackhawks a third consecutive playoff berth. Chicago got in later that day when Minnesota defeated Dallas.
Detroit heads into this game seeking its third straight win overall after defeating St. Louis 3-2 on Tuesday. Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall scored 56 seconds apart in the third period to put the Red Wings ahead.
"Tonight really was a sweet one. Just the fact that we came back," Kronwall said. "We did a good job in the third coming after them wave after wave."
It will likely fall to Corey Crawford to stop that attack. Crawford has allowed four goals while playing three straight games following backup Ray Emery's six consecutive starts.
Crawford is 4-2-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average in his career against Detroit, while counterpart Jimmy Howard is 3-4-1 all-time versus Chicago with a 3.22 GAA - his worst against any Western Conference opponent.
Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook has helped inflate that average by scoring in each of his past three games versus Detroit. Seabrook had four goals and three assists last season against the Red Wings and helped Chicago win four of the final five meetings.
He might have some help in this game with forward Daniel Carcillo expected to return from a six-game absence due to an upper-body injury. Marcus Kruger's upper-body injury, however, will likely keep him out.
Detroit, meanwhile, won't have Tomas Holmstrom available. The winger was placed on injured reserve Thursday because of a strained groin and Gustav Nyquist was recalled from Grand Rapids of the AHL.
The Red Wings will visit Chicago again Jan. 8 and will host the Blackhawks on Jan. 14.
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