Game of the night - Nov. 1 - Blackhawks, Rangers in Original Six matchup

Chicago Blackhawks (7-5-1) at New York Rangers (5-4-1), Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.

“Some say that’s progress. Some say that’s cruel.” – Midnight Oil
I fly from Chicago to New York roughly once every four to six weeks. On my frequent flier statements, it’s the same 733 miles each way.

Not talking LA to Johannesburg here. Sometimes, I have gotten from O’Hare to La Guardia in around an hour and 45 minutes – less time than it used to take to get to high school in the Bronx from Queens.

So, when games like Monday’s tilt at MSG between the Blackhawks and Rangers are on the schedule, it makes me lament why there are not more of them.

The price of progress – or in this case, expansion.

Fifty years ago in the Original Six era, Chicago and New York faced off 14 times. In 1970-71, with the league more than doubled to 14, the Blackhawks and Rangers met just six times.

A decade later, there were four games between Chicago and New York as the league had 21 teams spread out over four divisions – including Calgary in the same one with Washington, Philadelphia, the Rangers and Islanders following the Flames’ relocation from Atlanta.

It’s 2,031 miles from New York to southern Alberta. The Rangers traveled there twice.

By 1990-91, Chicago and New York would meet only three times. Ten years ago, with the league comprised of 30 teams, the Rangers and ‘Hawks faced off twice.

That was cut to once each of the following five seasons, and none in 2007-08.

Why do I view this as a tragedy? Simple - because it’s a piece of history being erased.

No sport in North America reveres history as much as hockey. Think back to the reverence when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last spring, and the pomp and circumstance when a team raises a championship banner on opening night the following season.

The Blackhawks had members of the 1960-61 team hand off the banner to the remaining members of last season’s squad. A poignant gesture on a sports landscape dotted with ME! ME! ME! attitudes.

Do the Rangers have to play New Jersey or Pittsburgh six times a season? Does Chicago have to do the same against Nashville or Columbus? I think not.

As for this game, New York returns home following an impressive 2-0 win at Toronto on Saturday in the third of four meetings between the Original Six teams this year.

Henrik Lundqvist, who recorded his first shutout of the season, is 3-0-2 with a 1.76 goals-against average in his career versus Chicago, and has allowed only three goals in two home wins.

Despite losing two top players in Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury to injuries on Oct. 15, the Rangers have scored 18 goals while going 4-3-0. US Olympian Ryan Callahan has picked up the scoring slack with four goals, but five others have two goals each.

The biggest surprise in that bunch is Brian Boyle, a 6-foot-7 forward who has already matched a career-high with four goals in just 10 games.

Chicago will be without high-scoring Marian Hossa for a couple of weeks with an injury, but they still have Patrick Sharp, a steady performer over the past few seasons who is breaking out early in 2010-11.

Through 12 games, the 28-year-old has 10 goals, including four on the power play and three game-winners. However, he hasn’t scored in seven games against the Rangers since getting two in 2004 when he was with the Flyers.

Chicago, which defeated the Wild 3-1 in Minnesota on Saturday, has dropped three of its last four in MSG.

The pick? Sharp will score, but the Rangers will shut down Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and come away with a narrow win.


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