Must-See Games on the Chicago Blackhawks' 2014-15 Schedule

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2014

Must-See Games on the Chicago Blackhawks' 2014-15 Schedule

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The Chicago Blackhawks will come into the 2014-15 season with a chip on their collective shoulders.

    After losing in overtime of the seventh game at home in the Western Conference Final to the Los Angeles Kings, the Blackhawks want to get back to championship-level hockey once again.

    The release of the full 82-game schedule means the Blackhawks know the road map they will have to follow to secure a strong playoff spot once again.

    In this piece, we look at 10 games on the schedule that will be significant in determining whether the season will be successful or not. These are all can't-miss games.

At Dallas Stars, Oct. 9

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Chicago Blackhawks open the season with a road game against the improving Dallas Stars. While it sounds like a significant assignment for Chicago, the Stars are the team with the burden in this game.

    The Blackhawks want to set the tone in this season opener. Two years ago, they opened the season on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. While the Kings were raising their banner, the Blackhawks played with an edge and scored a one-sided 5-2 victory.

    That win allowed the Blackhawks to start the season with confidence. After falling short of their goals in 2013-14, look for head coach Joel Quenneville to prepare his team for another impressive regular season. It starts against Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the Stars.

Vs. Anaheim Ducks, Oct. 28

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The Anaheim Ducks may begin the 2014-15 season with even more of an edge than the Blackhawks.

    While there was a bit of a fade at the end of the regular season, the Ducks still finished as the top-seeded team in the Western Conference. They have a powerful one-two punch in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and the Ducks are a fast, dynamic and strong team.

    Despite their physical assets, the Ducks saw their season come to an end at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings, just like the Blackhawks. The Ducks will have to pass plenty of tests all season, and they will look at this late October game against the Blackhawks as a chance to pass an important exam.

    The Blackhawks don't want to slip up against a key conference foe at the United Center. This is a big early season game.

At Los Angeles Kings, Nov. 29

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    The Chicago Blackhawks would normally be prepared for a sensational effort against the Kings.

    Quenneville and his staff are not going to have to say anything to get their team prepared for the first meeting of the season with the team that eliminated them in such painful fashion. Captain Jonathan Toews is not going to have to rally his teammates either.

    All parties in crisp, white Chicago road uniforms are going to want to give it their best.

    That doesn't mean they will play anything close to their best game. The game at the Staples Center will be their sixth straight game on the road, as well as their third in four nights. 

    This is a game the Blackhawks want to win badly, but it will be a battle for survival against a very powerful opponent.

Vs. St. Louis Blues, Dec. 3

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The first game back home after a long road trip often turns into a trap.

    However, the Blackhawks may be fatigued when they get back home from their six-game sojourn into the league's western cities, but they should be primed for a key game with the St. Louis Blues.

    The Blackhawks and the Blues may not have as famous a rivalry as the Bruins and the Canadiens or the Rangers and the Devils, but it is clear that these two teams have a healthy hate for one another. 

    This will be the two teams' second meeting of the year and the first in Chicago. The Blues obviously want some payback against the Blackhawks after getting beaten in their opening-round playoff series. Look for St. Louis to push the Blackhawks hard early in the game, and the key will be whether the Blackhawks can skate with them for 60 minutes (or more) after a long road trip.

At Colorado Avalanche, Dec. 27

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    Chris Schneider/Associated Press

    The Colorado Avalanche were able to surprise a lot of teams under first-year head coach Patrick Roy last year.

    Don't expect any opponent to overlook the Avs this year. Especially the Chicago Blackhawks, which were beaten in four of five meetings with the Avs last season.

    It's not completely fair to say that the Blackhawks didn't respect the Avs, especially after losing to them in their first meeting. However, few thought Roy's team had the strength to sustain their early season success.

    The Avs did just that, as they won the NHL's Central Division. The Avs will want to show that they have more than enough ability to sustain last year's success. They should come with their best effort against the Blackhawks, and it will be difficult for Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Corey Crawford to overcome them in this game.

At Washington Capitals, Jan. 1

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Winter Classic has become one of the NHL's most successful ventures since 2008.

    The Washington Capitals had been hungry to host this game, and they jumped at the opportunity to play the Blackhawks on New Year's Day. While the site of this game has not been determined yet, it is likely that the game will be played in Nationals Park, according to ESPN.

    The baseball stadium is the home of the National League's Washington Nationals.

    The Blackhawks are fairly used to playing in outdoor NHL games.

    They hosted the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, and they played at Soldier Field vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

    While there is no rivalry between the Blackhawks and the Capitals, both teams will be featured on HBO's 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic. The Blackhawks will have to deal with this invasive, behind-the-scenes look for several weeks prior to the game. They certainly have the veteran crew to deal with it, but it could prove to be a distraction.

At St. Louis Blues, Feb. 8

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The NHL's Dog Days can be very cruel. The time between the NFL's Super Bowl in early February and the stretch run in mid-March can take its toll on all but the best coaches and players.

    The Blackhawks will be put to the test throughout the end of January and the first week of February when they go on a seven-game road trip. Players are bound to be tired, sore and anxious to get home.

    However, if they want to come home with a good feeling about themselves, they are going to have to put up a good showing against their archrivals.

    The St. Louis Blues are tough, mean and physical, and they are usually at their best at the Scottrade Center. Crawford needs to be prepared for an onslaught of shots if the Blackhawks are going to survive this important game.

Vs. Boston Bruins, Feb. 22

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins was a sensational battle of two Original Six powerhouses.

    The Blackhawks broke out on top with a triple-overtime win, while the Bruins battled back with two consecutive victories. Just when it looked like the Bruins would seize control of the series, the Blackhawks won the final three games to earn the Stanley Cup.

    Any meeting between the Blackhawks and the Bruins is considered gold by hockey fans. The two teams have a respect for each other that is rarely seen in the NHL.

    The Bruins feature the powerful trio of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. If the Blackhawks are determined to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins are in the same boat in the Eastern Conference.

    This potential Stanley Cup preview will undoubtedly prove to be great theater for a national television audience. It will be one of the NHL's top games of the regular season.

At San Jose Sharks, March 14

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The San Jose Sharks have been devastated by postseason losses to the Kings the last two seasons.

    Even before they dropped the final four games of their opening-round series to the Kings last spring—after winning the first three games—the Sharks have been a team that has known little besides pain and frustration with their postseason efforts.

    Nevertheless, head coach Todd McLellan has one of the most talented rosters in the league. In this game, the Sharks will start their run in the season's home stretch. They should be prepared to play one of their best games of the season against the Blackhawks.

    Quenneville will need to rally his team under difficult circumstances if the Blackhawks are going to come away with a key road win.

Vs. Minnesota Wild, April 7

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Blackhawks will try to close the home portion of their schedule with a victory over the team that they defeated in the second round of the playoffs last year.

    It's difficult to surmise what the Blackhawks' final home game will mean in the standings or how it will impact home-ice advantage in the playoffs. If recent form holds, the end-of-season games could be quite impactful in both areas.

    However, success on home ice in the postseason is often vital for any team that has designs on winning the Stanley Cup. This game could help the Blackhawks set the tone for a strong postseason run.

    It's also a game in which the Blackhawks regularly thank their fans for their support during the season. They will almost certainly come forth with a top effort—as long as they are reasonably healthy—and give the playoff-worthy Minnesota Wild something to think about as they prepare for the postseason.

    It should be a can't-miss game at the United Center.