Top 10 games to look forward to on the Blackhawks' calendar
The Chicago Blackhawks open their championship-defending season on Tuesday, October 1st versus the Washington Capitals. Needless to say, that game will be the number one ticket on Blackhawks' fans lists when regular season single-game tickets go on sale Monday morning, as Chicago has earned the right to raise a handful of banners that night - tops among them, the 2013 Stanley Cup banner.
Three years ago, Capitals forward Troy Brouwer stood on the Blackhawks side of the ice, part of the 2010 Cup-winning team. Now he will return on the visitors' side, as part of a team that is still chasing their first Cup since being founded in 1974. The team will be hungry to make up for their first-round exit in the 2013 playoffs, and will no doubt be as eager to spoil Chicago's banner-raising, as the Blackhawks did to the Kings to start off last season.
One other big date on the Blackhawks' calendar this year will be the March 1 Stadium Series game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field. That game is not part of season ticket holder packages, and a sale date for that game has not yet been announced.
So what are the top other games should Blackhawks fans look to pick up as tickets go on sale?
10. Anaheim Ducks - Friday, December 6, 7:00 p.m. - Last season, the Ducks had the Blackhawks' number, sweeping their regular season series. The Blackhawks will hope to improve their performance against Anaheim this year. One of the Ducks' stars, Bobby Ryan, was traded to Ottawa this summer. The other question facing the Ducks is whether future HHOFer Teemu Selanne will return for another season; if so, this is an opportunity to see one of the Finnish Flash's final NHL games.
9. Edmonton Oilers - Sunday, November 3, 6:00 p.m. - The hot young guns of the Oilers visit the UC twice this year; the other date is January 12th. Edmonton has provided a challenge for the Blackhawks over the past few seasons. The Oilers are loaded with so much firepower spread through their lines these days that it's fun to watch them play - even if they're lighting up the other team's goal. Edmonton picked up some blue line experience in Andrew Ference this summer, and it's still to be seen whether Richard Bachman or Jason LaBarbera will be Devan Dubnyk's primary backup. Now that Nikolai Khabibulin has returned to Chicago, it will be his first game against the team he's backstopped for the past four seasons.
8. New Jersey Devils - Monday, December 23, 7:00 p.m. - In the past couple seasons, the whole "Luongo/Schneider goalie controversy" has added flavor to the already entertaining Canucks rivalry. But when Cory Schneider was the one to be shipped out of town, it made the heir apparent for goaltending legend Marty Brodeur. Whether it's watching what may be one of Brodeur's final season games, or seeing Schneider taking the pipes, it should be a game worth watching.
7. Philadelphia Flyers - Wednesday, December 11, 7:00 p.m. - Ray Emery returned to the Flyers this season after winning the William M. Jennings and Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks. It's still be seen who will take the reins as #1 in goal for the Flyers after they bought out Bryzgalov this summer, but after last season's performance, the job is probably Emery's. The Flyers are hoping to rebound after a terrible 2013 season; a game against the defending Cup champs will be a test of how much the team has improved. This December game will likely be a showdown between the two goalies - Corey Crawford and Emery - who took the Blackhawks to their Presidents' Trophy and new league records last season.
6. Nashville Predators - Friday, March 14, 7:00 p.m. - Last week, the Predators made news when they announced a "keep the red out" plan for home ticket sales for three games versus the Blackhawks. Chicago has to wait until March to return the favor; the Preds came to town for two games in ten days. This will be Viktor Stalberg's first game back at the UC after being traded to Nashville this summer.
5. Winnipeg Jets - Wednesday, November 6, 7:00 p.m. - The Jets are now Central Division rivals for the Blackhawks, and the two teams will play each other three times in November. The only time at the UC, however, will be on November 6th. Winnipeg is already home to two players who were very popular when they played with the Blackhawks - Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien; this season, they're joined by Michael Frolik, who was traded to the Jets over the summer. It will be Frolik's first game back at the UC.
4. Los Angeles Kings - Sunday, December 15, 6:00 p.m. - Chicago was a thorn in LA's side all last season, starting with deflating the Kings' own banner raising, continuing with beating them 2 of 3 times in the regular season, and finishing them off in the Western Conference Final. The Kings will look to change that this season, starting with the first of two games at the UC in December. This will also be Daniel Carcillo's first game back at the UC after being traded to LA this summer.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs - Saturday, October 19, 6:00 p.m. - Last season, the Maple Leafs were knocked out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins in the first round. This year, one of the Leafs' prized summer acquisitions is Dave Bolland, who scored the Cup-winning goal against the Bruins. Bolland, who has played in the Blackhawks system since 2006-07, was traded to the Leafs just days after the Cup win; it will be his first trip to the UC in a vistor's uniform - less than three weeks after Chicago hoists the Cup banner.
2. Detroit Red Wings - Sunday, March 16, 6:30 p.m. - As long-time division rivals, Blackhawks and Red Wings fans have become accustomed to seeing each other a half-dozen times per season. With Detroit's move to the Eastern Conference, however, they'll see each other just twice this year: the first time will be at the Joe on January 22nd. Detroit's roster is mostly intact from last season, and the last time they played on Chicago ice was game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. Their game in March should be highly charged and exciting.
1. Boston Bruins - Sunday, January 19, 2:00 p.m. - It will be just shy of the seven-month anniversary of the Blackhawks Cup win on Boston ice when these two teams face each other for the first time this season. It will also be one of the last two home games in January for the Blackhawks before the Olympic break. The Bruins have been busy this off season: players like Tyler Seguin and Andrew Ference departed; new arrivals include Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson. It's always fun when Original Six teams come to town, but the Bruins will be seeking a little revenge for how last season ended.