The Chicago Blackhawks are finally coming back to the United Center.
It's been two weeks since the Blackhawks last set foot on home ice—winning 2-1 in overtime over the Detroit Red Wings. In that time, they went 4-0-2 on their six-game road trip, contending with the best in the Western Conference.
Now they're back, looking to take on the No. 2 seed in the West, the Anaheim Ducks. For as good as the 'Hawks have been this season, the Ducks are right on their heels with an 8-2-1 record and 17 points—only five points and a game in hand behind the Blackhawks.
But there is more at stake in Tuesday night's game then just another two points.
The Blackhawks need to make a statement against the Ducks—they have to win in dominating fashion—after all, they are in front of their home fans.
This may also lead to a letdown. The first home game back in two weeks is bound to be in the back of every player's mind.
If fans remember correctly, the Blackhawks were No. 1 in the NHL last season at the halfway point. That all came crashing down due to a nine-game losing streak that placed them at the No. 6 seed—only a couple of points up from the last playoff spot.
The Blackhawks cannot let that happen again, and captain Jonathan Toews understands that these upcoming home games will be just as hard as the road games (via Chicago Sun-Times):
It was a very good road trip for us. I don’t think we want to see too much difference in our game when we play at home. We’ve played a lot of smart hockey, slow and patient. We found a way to win games even if it wasn’t our best hockey.
For all the success that they've found on the road, the Blackhawks must find that very success on home ice. With the next seven games at the UC against tough Western Conference teams, anything less then a great home record would be a disappointment.
Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford will be looked upon to provide much of this success just as they did on the road. Hopefully, jitters won't cause either of those two to have a subpar performance against an offensively talented Ducks team.
The same could be said about Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who have been incredible to start the season.
But that brings up the inevitable question: Just how far can the Blackhawks go without losing in regulation?
The 2006-2007 Anaheim Ducks set the all-time record for most games without a regulation loss at 16—the same season in which they won a Stanley Cup.
A successful home-ice stint can put the Blackhawks on the cusp of matching and even breaking that record.
But all good things have to come to an end, and the Blackhawks are bound to lose in regulation on this road trip.
Is it time to panic when that happens? Absolutely not—how they rebound from a loss will be more telling than the loss itself.
Great teams have great home records; this has almost always been the case. If the Blackhawks want to legitimize themselves to the rest of the NHL as a Stanley Cup threat, then they must be dominant at home.
Tuesday night will be unpredictable, but a win will be one more step in the direction of a Stanley Cup.
Follow James Maahs on Twitter for all the latest on the NHL and Chicago Blackhawks.