Important game: With playoff dreams fading, Blackhawks host Rangers

Chicago’s first home game in 12 days has plenty of interesting storylines.

The Blackhawks will play only their second of three home games in February when they host the Rangers on Wednesday at the United Center.

Both teams are outside of the playoff picture with the NHL trade deadline a week away. Here are five reasons this game will be a must-watch.

1. Playoff dreams

The Blackhawks and Rangers have both missed the playoffs the past two seasons, finishing last in their respective divisions in 2018 and moving up one and two spots, respectively, in 2019. Chicago is six points behind Arizona for the second wild card in the Western Conference and New York is seven points back of Philadelphia for the same spot in the Eastern Conference.

But the two teams are trending in opposite directions in the second half. Chicago is 2-4-2, which includes a five-game winless streak, and New York is 7-3-0 with a four-game winning streak that ended with a 3-1 loss to the Bruins on Sunday.

2. Trade watch

New York might be trending upward, but they have a few players that are talked about as potential trade deadline acquisitions, most notably right wings Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. The Blackhawks’ chances to win the game would increase if Buchnevich or Kreider are held out of the game for precautionary reasons as the Rangers wait for a trade to go through.

The trade talk hasn’t been at the same level for Chicago despite being in the pretty much the same spot as New York. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman hasn’t made any definitive comments one way or the other on what he plans to do before the trade deadline.

3. Patrick Kane vs. Artemi Panarin

The former Chicago teammates are dragging their teams along, and Panarin is improving at both ends of the ice. Panarin also has an edge on Kane in points, goals and assists despite playing in two fewer games.

Panarin: 78 points (29 goals, 49 assists) in 57 games

Kane: 74 points (27 goals, 47 assists) in 59 games

The national NBC Sports Network broadcast will lean heavily into the Kane-Panarin storyline. Get ready for it.

Evaluating just how impactful Artemi Panarin has been to the...

4. Brothers clash

Chicago forward Dylan Strome and New York center Ryan Strome will play against each other. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the brothers take a faceoff draw against each other. They’ll be the third pair of brothers to play against each other this season at the United Center after Chicago forward Alex Nylander and Toronto forward William Nylander (Nov. 10) and Chicago defenseman Adam Boqvist and New Jersey left wing Jesper Boqvist (Dec. 23).

5. Rookie watch

After the 2019 NHL draft this game was circled as the first potential meeting between the second and third overall picks in New York’s Kaapo Kakko and Chicago’s Kirby Dach. It still will be, but there are two other rookies on their teams that have stolen the spotlight with New York defenseman Adam Fox and Chicago left wing Dominik Kubalik.

Both players rank in the top six in rookie scoring with 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) for Fox and 36 for Kubalik, who leads rookies with 23 goals and 21 even-strength goals. Fox’s impact defensively is pretty impressive as well.

The Blackhawks and Rangers will face off at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the United Center. To purchase tickets, visit StubHub.

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