Beating the reigning Stanley Cup champions may have been just what the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks needed to re-establish their strong play. A meeting with the struggling New York Rangers may also help.
The Blackhawks look to beat the Rangers for the first time in over four years Wednesday night when the Original Six teams meet at the United Center.
Chicago (18-7-3) won a season-high eight straight games before losing three of four heading into Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks—considered a favorite to reach their first Cup finals since 1992— beat the reigning champs 2-1 as Kris Versteeg(notes) scored 2:38 into overtime.
“To come in and beat the Stanley Cup champs is special,” said Versteeg, who has two goals in the last three games and nine overall.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville may opt to use backup goaltender Antti Niemi(notes) again after he made 32 saves against Pittsburgh. He’s 5-1-1 with a 1.71 goals-against average and two shutouts in seven games, while Cristobal Huet(notes) is 1-2-1 with a 2.65 GAA in his last four starts.
Huet has also lost his last four starts against the Rangers (14-14-1), posting a 4.64 GAA.
“We just talked about how well he’s played and he deserves maybe a little more ice time,” Quenneville said of Niemi, who played three games as a rookie last season. “But it’s nice to know that the tandem we have, the one-two punch is strong.”
The Blackhawks have lost their last three meetings with New York dating to a 2-1 overtime win on Dec. 7, 2005. They dropped both matchups last season, including a 3-2 overtime defeat at home Jan. 16.
The Rangers are looking to rebound from their fourth loss in five games. They were in position to build a two-goal lead early in the second period Sunday, but Ryan Callahan’s(notes) penalty shot was saved by Jimmy Howard(notes), and they lost 3-1 to Detroit.
That performance came one night after Callahan netted the eventual winner in the third period of a 2-1 victory at Buffalo.
“We just come away empty,” coach John Tortorella said. “I thought we played two good games, but you just want to get something out of it; a point out of it, but we didn’t. We have to fight through it. I thought we played well. We’ll go back at it.”
The right wing leads the NHL with 21 goals, and his 38 points are among the league leaders.
Despite Gaborik’s outstanding production, he’s managed to score in just one of the last five games - a two-goal performance in a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 30.
Gaborik has eight goals and three assists in his last seven games at the United Center.