Power Ranking the 7 Best NHL Games of the Upcoming Week
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We're into the back half of February, and the NHL season has taken shape.
Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks want to prove that they didn't just get off to hot starts but are two of the best teams in the league.
Teams are starting to position themselves for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. While there's a long way to go, here are the seven games that hockey fans will want to see between Feb. 19 and Feb. 25.
7. San Jose Sharks at Chicago Blackhawks, Feb. 22
The Sharks started the season with seven straight wins and looked like they were ready to dominate in the Western Conference—but then they dropped seven straight.
They face off against the Blackhawks for the third time this season, having already lost a pair of games to red-hot Chicago.
In the Feb. 15 encounter at the United Center, Chicago dispatched San Jose 4-1 with very little trouble. The Blackhawks were sparked by a fight between Jonathan Toews and the much bigger Joe Thornton.
While Thornton got the best of the throwdown, the Hawks got a lift from seeing their captain challenge Thornton, and they responded with a solid win.
Look for San Jose to play its best game in weeks.
6. Minnesota Wild at Edmonton Oilers, Feb. 21
Both the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers are on the outside looking in at the playoffs as of Feb. 17.
However, both are in position to secure a playoff spot with a decent hot streak.
More than that, both of these teams could represent the strength of the Western Conference in years to come.
The Wild made their big move in the offseason when they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge free-agent contracts.
The Oilers have a boatload of young talent that could allow them to become the dominant team in the West within the next year or two.
Watching Parise and Suter square off with Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov is a game that NHL fans will want to make sure they see.
5. Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, Feb. 20
The Philadelphia Flyers have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league since the lockout ended.
Claude Giroux called out his teammates for going through the motions following a Feb. 16 loss at Montreal (source: courierpostonline.com).
The season is already at the critical stage for the Flyers. If they are going to become a playoff team, they must turn it around quickly. What better team to start the process against than the Pittsburgh Penguins?
The Penguins are in first place in the Eastern Conference as of Feb. 17. Sidney Crosby has found his stride and is among the league's scoring leaders.
Pittsburgh has been dominant on the road, but they are just 3-3-0 at home. That should give the Flyers confidence that they can repeat the success they had against the Penguins in last year's first-round playoff series.
Philadelphia won that series in six games. This game should be an intense, physical and high-scoring encounter.
4. Vancouver Canucks at Detroit Red Wings, Feb. 24
The Canucks are the NHL's most consistent team over the last five years.
While they have tasted many painful postseason defeats, they are once again a formidable Western Conference team.
No surprise there, but the play of goalie Roberto Luongo has been remarkable since the start of the year.
The Red Wings could have fallen badly this year following the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, but head coach Mike Babcock has a resilient team that is in playoff contention. They will get tested in this game by the Canucks, but there will be no backing down by the Winged Wheel.
Look for Wings goalie Jimmy Howard to make the clutch saves that keeps the Wings in this game for 60 minutes or more, if necessary.
3. New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens, Feb. 23
The Rangers and Canadiens meet in their second game of the week.
They also play at Madison Square Garden Feb. 19, but it is the Rangers' trip to face Les Glorieux on their home ice that could be memorable.
There's something about a Saturday night game at the Bell Centre, and the fact that the Canadiens are squaring off with an Original Six rival, that makes this a special game.
This game will likely feature a duel between New York's Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price, two of the best goaltenders in the league.
Look for the team that gets the early lead to have the advantage because both teams are usually quite reluctant to give away scoring opportunities.
The Canadiens have been resilient this year, while the Rangers appear close to finding their stride.
2. Anaheim Ducks at Los Angeles Kings, Feb. 25
Don't think for a second that the Kings' Stanley Cup championship last year did not sting the Anaheim Ducks.
While fans were celebrating the Kings' first title, the Ducks did not even make the playoffs.
The early season has seen a reversal of form. The Ducks are near the top of the Western Conference, while the Kings are off to a slow start and will have to improve dramatically to get back to the postseason.
This is a nasty rivalry, and these teams like to punish each other. It would be a good time for the Kings to start digging out of their early malaise, while the Ducks would like to show that they can go into the Staples Center and steal a victory.
1. Vancouver Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks, Feb. 19
The Canucks bring about an emotional response from a number of rivals.
Especially the Chicago Blackhawks.
The hatred between these two teams is palpable, and it seems reasonable that if either of these teams is going to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals, it will have to beat the other in the playoffs.
That's getting ahead of the situation. The Blackhawks (12-0-3) have not tasted regulation defeat through their first 15 games, and if they can avoid losing to the Canucks in regulation, they will tie the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks for the longest season-opening stretch without a 60-minute defeat in NHL history.
Patrick Kane is off to an explosive start, having scored nine goals and 21 points. The Chicago goaltending has been excellent, but Roberto Luongo has a 1.63 goals against average and doesn't have to take a back seat to anyone this year.
This may be the best game of the first half of the season.